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The great divide between Grants Pass and county

What are the differences between people who live in Grants Pass and those who live in the rest of the county? For many, it's their positions on support for law enforcement and libraries.

It’s no secret that a majority of rural Josephine County voters have opposed recent public safety tax proposals. A majority of them don’t support libraries, either.

An analysis of election figures in the Nov. 4 election shows that 10 of the 11 voter precincts in Grants Pass favored establishing a countywide library district. Fifty-five percent of city voters voted in favor of the district.

Outside the city, however, 57 percent voted “no" and the library measure was defeated 53 percent to 47 percent.

City and county voters agree on many other issues. For instance, on the same ballot city and county voters overwhelmingly supported taxing marijuana and overwhelmingly opposed a measure to ban pesticide use in Josephine County by government entities and corporations.

City and county voters also opposed, narrowly, Measure 91’s legalization of recreational marijuana, which passed statewide by a wide margin. And they were against Measure 92, the GMO labeling initiative that was so close it triggered a statewide recount.

So what’s at the root of the agreements and disagreements? Taxes.

“When you deal with the areas outside the Willamette Valley, rural voters have taken the attitude that they can take care of themselves. They have a self-reliant attitude,” said Prof. James Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University. “They look at anything that raises their taxes very, very carefully.”

In the May primary, 59 percent of voters in Grants Pass said yes to the latest public safety proposal. That’s been a trend now for several years. However, 58 percent of rural voters said no, and because there are more voters in rural areas the proposal went down to defeat.

Urban residents also tend to have a different perspective about the value of libraries than their rural counterparts.

When city leaders strategize about attracting business to the area, they emphasize the importance of providing services such as developable land, modern health care facilities, schools and, yes, libraries.

Moore pointed out that drawing new industries to the area may not appeal to rural residents because they don’t see how it will benefit them. The industries that are often looking to establish in new areas don’t provide the types of jobs that appeal to rural residents, Moore added.

“If you are, in effect, someone whose parents worked in the timber industry or who has worked in the timber industry yourself, you don’t think those jobs help you,” Moore said.

He added that libraries are no longer the cultural centers and community gathering places that they once were, contributing to an erosion of support for libraries.

Supporters of libraries and law enforcement in Josephine County face the same hurdle: proving to a majority of voters that they are needed.

 “Until there are strong reasons for the public to pay for those things, they won’t be supported,” Moore said.

Reach Daily Courier reporter Jim Moore at 541-474-3721 or jmoore@thedailycourier.com