Home Opinion Editorials Senatorsâ€™ town halls give voice to rural Oregon
Senatorsâ€™ town halls give voice to rural Oregon
Anti-government zealots are in ample supply these days. And they’ve got
a lot to howl about — tax dollars flushed down the toilet, flagrant
hypocrisy, the entitlement mentality, new and unwanted regulation.
Beyond the bellyachers and the dangerous absolutists, however, are many ordinary people concerned about whether small businesses can offer health insurance at a reasonable cost to their employees. There are people concerned about preserving Social Security. There are people concerned about jobs that have gone away and jobs that seem in a precarious state. There are people concerned about getting timber out of the national forest to support local mills that are standing idle. In short, these are bread and butter individuals who believe in the USA and its mission as a do-it-yourself nation and want it to perform up to its original promise. These are the people who show up at the town halls put on in each of Oregon’s 36 counties each year by Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.
Wyden started the trend when he became Oregon’s U.S. senator in 1996, and the recently elected Merkley followed suit. It’s not easy. Imagine wading into potentially incendiary crowds to explain why issues are way more complex than they might first appear and that there are more questions than answers. The senators become easy scapegoats. But when food prices are rising faster than incomes, when access to the national forest is in jeopardy, the senators should be put on the spot. They should be made to know that people are suffering in the hinterlands and just want a chance to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and have certain freedoms and inalienable rights.
The senators have an important mission as they visit Oregon, even when it seems more the Land of Skepticism and Kingdom of Cynicism. They need to separate the common good from individual wants — and to point otherwise angry people toward civil discourse and a higher level of civilization.
Town halls give the chance for the senators to nip conspiratorial fantasies in the bud. Town halls give senators a chance to dodge verbal torpedoes and try to reconnect extremists to society. Town halls give the senators a chance to hear all sides of the issues, even when the issue has as many sides as a cat has lives.
Town halls are the ultimate lab for connecting citizens to their government. The senators get a chance to hear the beefs of the paranoid ultraright and paranoid ultraleft, and also the unemployed logger down the street. And in the end, when all the arguments have died down, town halls can show what a difference government can make in people’s lives — beyond just emptying their wallets.
Northeast Oregon appreciates the senators’ willingness to venture out on a regular basis, and to not ignore those of us in the rural parts of the state.