OFFICE OF RURAL POLICY GIVES AREA MORE CLOUT
Many of Oregon's rural communities have been through hell and back during the current economic downturn. Northeast Oregon towns are no exception. Native-born people stay here because of family and lifestyle, and people move here for the lifestyle. But most people eventually confront economic realities: You may be underemployed. You may not get rich. You may struggle just to keep the lights on, feed your children and find a job, period.
Rural Oregon, however, got more of a voice in Salem thanks to the new Office of Rural Policy, which became official Wednesday. It's part of Gov. Ted Kulongoski's proactive approach in jump-starting the rural economic engine. With a cabinet-level post to help state agencies understand how their decisions impact rural areas, the office honors rural Oregon's unique and valuable role in the state, and levels the playing field of getting state investment in our economy.
The governor had taken on a difficult challenge of bringing together a state divided on urban and rural lines. As the governor said, however, our diversity "should unite, not divide us."
Here's how the Office of Rural Policy will work. It's modeled after the governor's Community Solutions Team, will be located in the governor's office and will coordinate rural policy. Officials have promised a non-partisan office that dispenses economic information, identifies impact of legislation on rural communities and works closely with community and economic development programs. The directors of 12 state departments will each have at least one person as a rural policy liaison working with the office. What's more, a 14-person Rural Policy Advisory Committee, and representatives from the Senate and the House, will help identify problems, adequately define them and then contribute to their solution.
The Office of Rural Policy is particularly important in light of the decline of natural resources from being the engine of the rural Oregon economy to being one of several important components of that engine. It's all part of a dramatic change in rural Oregon's economy over the past two decades. The old solutions cut more, mine more, ranch more and so on won't work with finite resources.
Some critics have asked why we need more lobbyists? But this isn't about lobbying so much as it is about having a more powerful voice representing the needs and interests of rural Oregon and seeing that they get adequately addressed.
It's time to move beyond all the dreary arguments about why we can't get our share and the claims of outsiderhood. It's time to remember that what's good for our region is also good for the state. It's best for the future and the greater good of the region to have this clear voice in state government looking out for issues of importance to us: among them, stable funding for our schools, access to higher education, the preservation and balanced use of natural resources, social problems like family breakdown and crime, better roads, more.
Now that the Office of Rural Policy is up and running, it's important to turn the anger over being ignored as a region into constructive action. The office should be among our most valuable resources in helping achieve the long-term goal of being a place not only with an attractive lifestyle but with a stable, vibrant economy.