Will Brown reach out to rural Oregon?
Kate Brown comes to the Oregon governor's office promising she'll work to restore the people's faith in government. We hope she recognizes that, as shocking as John Kitzhaber's fall from grace was, rural Oregonians had lost much of their faith in the state long before they ever heard the name Cylvia Hayes.
Brown has the good fortune — if there can be such a thing under these circumstances — to come into the office with the economy on the upswing. For, as much as the policy wonks debate political precepts and cultural metrics, we all know it is indeed the economy, stupid. No far-sighted agenda can make it out the door if the economy is sour. Money may not buy you love, but it can buy you full-day kindergarten.
What seems to escape the folks in Salem — and especially those who drive to Salem from the north — is that the rising tide is not lifting all boats equally. Certainly, the economy is better across the state, but when Nike talks of adding 2,000 jobs with minimum $100,000 salaries, the good folks in places like Douglas, Curry, Klamath, Josephine and, yes, Jackson County have a hard time relating. We've been down so long, a footrest starts to look like up.
Much of the malaise lies with natural resource and environmental policy, and much of that policy comes out of Washington, D.C., rather than Salem. But if there's no voice for rural Oregonians speaking up in Salem, there's no hope the message will be heard in our nation's capital.
Kitzhaber was an Oregon Democrat, in other words, liberal in many areas. But he did have a sense of how out of balance our timber policies are, with the federal government owning the vast majority of timberlands, on which only a very small fraction of the timber harvest is occurring.
No one is suggesting a return to the days of cut first and ask questions later. But the pendulum has swung so far to the other side that common sense has disappeared from even our peripheral vision. People see our forest clogged with trees that can't be cut and our courts clogged with lawsuits from organizations that seem determined that as little as possible will be cut.
This is not only a timber issue. Farmers, ranchers, small business owners, blue collar workers, fishermen — the list of people who see prosperity as a distant dream goes on and on.
John Kitzhaber was a Willamette Valley guy, his years in Roseburg as a physician notwithstanding. But he was also a practical governor who knew that the state is not prospering if only the Willamette Valley and the metro area are prospering. There are an awful lot of people in those many, many counties that lie outside of the Eugene to Portland stretch of I-5. Kitzhaber knew that and knew they still need help, even as the economic indicators continue their upward climb.
Kate Brown is a Portlander and almost certainly more liberal than her predeccesor. But she's also a smart person, who like Kitzhaber, knows Oregon is a big state with many varied needs. We can only hope that, as she begins her term in office promising to restore the people's faith, her promise is extended to all the people of this state.