The resistance to the current order is expanding from the Cascades to the Wallowas. On May 16, voters in Wallowa County will have the opportunity to join the eleven other counties in eastern Oregon that have voted in the past three years to secede from the state.
Oregon is ruled by Democrats, who hold the governorship and the majority in the state legislature, while Republicans dominate the counties that voted to leave. However, rural Oregon cannot benefit from a separation. It’s a diversion from the underlying problem: people just want to be heard, understood, and given a say in their lives.
It is time for Oregon to pause and hear out our rural and eastern neighbors. We need to stop discussing what secession may look like and start discussing how we can build a strong, unified Oregon bound together by more than Interstate 84 and partisanship.
In 2019, proponents of the State of Jefferson and eastern Oregonians who favored joining Idaho came together online, initiating what would become known as the Greater Idaho movement. By 2021, six counties in eastern, central, and southern Oregon, whose ballot proposals were launched in 2020, found themselves in favor of Move Oregon’s Border.
Eleven counties are a part of this, and Wallowa could soon join them. It is quite doubtful that the legislatures of Oregon and Idaho, let alone Congress, would ever approve a secession. However, the movement reflects the current difficulty in bridging the gap between urban and rural areas.
It’s rare that people in urban Oregon recognize the special value that our strong rural communities bring to the state. The Oregon 2023 Economic Outlook report finds that the state’s rural economies are expanding faster than its metropolitan ones.
The rest of the state can learn from rural areas’ experiences with protecting vulnerable populations. In Oregon, rural and largely eastern Oregon accounted for seven of the eleven towns where children were most likely to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty in research published in 2020 by the Portland-based Oregon Community Foundation.
The survey also found that low-income children’s future earnings benefited the most from living in northeastern Oregon. “On average, children who grew up in low-income families in Wallowa, Baker, or Grant counties earned 26% more than children in similar families in Jefferson County and 14% more than children in Multnomah County,” it said.
Some of the benefits our rural areas provide to the state include thriving economies and higher rates of upward economic mobility for children from low-income families. It would benefit Oregon if we could better appreciate the strengths of our rural areas.
Alaska, Massachusetts, Iowa, Utah, Louisiana, and California are just a few states that have established rural policy offices to address these issues. A rural policy office ensures that rural concerns are considered in legislative actions. Oregon once boasted one, too.
Former Governor Ted Kulongoski established the Office of Rural Policy and the Rural Policy Advisory Committee in 2004 via executive order. Despite budget cuts and staffing shortages, the committee successfully represented rural Oregon in Olympia. Republican and Democratic lawmakers collaborated on rural policy problems on the advisory council.
What follows is the most recent news on the state of Oregon:
- Oregon Senate Unites to Empower Rural Firefighters with Groundbreaking Bill.
- As the Heat Wave in Oregon Continues, Health Hazards Rise.
- Former Oregon City Veterinarian Linked to Intel Killing by Prosecutors.
The group highlighted critical issues confronted by rural Oregon, such as water consumption, which persists even now. After only four years, the committee’s budget was slashed by Democrats due to the Great Recession, effectively silencing rural concerns.
Greater Idaho backers argue that if Portland voters could no longer dictate to the rest of the state, rural Oregonians would finally get the political power and representation they desire. However, the lack of population in rural Oregon that would be necessary for political influence in Idaho would remain after independence.
It is unnecessary to physically relocate borders to bring rural and urban areas closer together. Everyone has a part to play in bridging these long-standing gaps; together, we can develop the meaningful relationships necessary to unify our state. It’s time to stop talking and start listening; rural Oregon is more than “Move Oregon’s Border” lawn signs, gun clubs, and dying businesses.