It isn’t often those voting in the Chronicle’s online poll speak with one voice, but last week’s question, “Does rural Oregon get adequate say in our state legislature,” generated a single answer: No.
Our poll is by no means scientific. There is no proper sampling, no parameters, no filters. Anyone from anywhere can chip in with their vote.
Statistically meaningless and scientifically invalid, the poll nevertheless highlights a real concern shared by many living in rural areas of the state, especially those living east of the Cascade mountains.
Rural Oregonians feel they have little say in the governance of the state, and their concerns are poorly understood or simply ignored by the urban majorities.
The depth of the rural/urban divide first came to my attention back in 2014, when the Chronicle began a series of articles looking at the lifestyles, challenges and future of cattle ranching in Wasco and Sherman counties.
From the re-introduction of wolves to the grazing of cattle on public lands, we found that urban and rural views had little in common, and at times even the “facts” were in hot dispute.
The rural-urban divide was very real, the chasms between very deep. It was hard to imagine a viable way to that gap.
In 2018, the EO Media group introduced a quarterly magazine called “The Other Oregon: A voice for rural Oregon.”
“The Other Oregon” is distributed in print to “5,000 influential Oregonians —including elected officials, leaders of state agencies, business owners, directors of non-profits and foundations, economic development groups and to anyone who has an interest in understanding rural challenges and connecting urban and rural Oregon.”
According to Publisher Kathryn B. Brown, the divide “is the reason this magazine exists, as we strive to connect urban and rural in a mutually beneficial way for all Oregonians.”
In the current issue, an article by Mateusz Perkowsi looks at the “great divide” and how to bridge that divide through discussions with retired professors Michael Hibbard, Ethan Seltzer and Bruce Weber.
Perkowsi presents five of their ideas: Support businesses that create urban-rural linkages; create opportunities for interaction and understanding; focus on big ideas affecting all Oregonians; invest in government services in rural areas; don’t mischaracterize or exaggerate the nature of the rift.
Rural communities have a unique challenge: The nature of our economy has changed dramatically in recent decades, and will continue to change. It’s unrealistic to think we can go back.
But we can move forward, and actively seek ways to create connections, interaction and understanding across the great divide. We can support the “big ideas” that affect us all.
Urban or rural, we can work the common ground between us and create a stronger Oregon.
—Mark Gibson is editor of The Dalles Chronicle.