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'Grand Canyon' Divides Rural, Urban Worlds

by Editorial Board
Capital Press, December 30, 2010

During every statewide election, rural residents hear this promise: "I will represent the entire state."

Immediately after the election, though, the truth emerges. Statewide officials will cater to the urban areas, often exclusively.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in Oregon, where the new governor, John Kitzhaber, says he will live and work in Portland and venture only occasionally 40 miles into the hinterlands of the Willamette Valley, where the state capital resides.

Such was the case in California, where outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger spent as much time in Los Angeles as in Sacramento. One wonders what lies in store when Jerry Brown takes office in California.

In Washington state, it is rare to catch Gov. Chris Gregoire venturing beyond the Puget Sound area.

Only in Idaho does Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter regularly journey beyond the state capital to other parts of the state.

Granted, a politician will most often be found where the votes are -- and where the donors are. That's to be expected.

But the divide is more than proximity and money. It is a mindset that, boiled down, is this: "Urban areas are more important than rural areas." They must be, or politicians wouldn't spend the vast majority of their time schmoozing there.

Many urban residents also adopt the mindset that they know what's best for the rest of the state.

What rural resident hasn't suffered through a lecture from an urbanite prescribing how we should live and work and why our values are less important than theirs? It is that sort of chauvinism that leads to -- and exacerbates -- the so-called urban-rural divide.

Nothing demonstrates that so much as lame-duck Gov. Ted Kulongoski's appointment of former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, a life-long politician from southwestern Oregon, to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

The eight-member board advises the Bonneville Power Administration on matters relating to the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Of Oregon's two council members, none are from Eastern Oregon, where the Columbia and Snake are the lifeblood of the economy. Moreover, Bradbury is a proponent of saving salmon at all costs, no matter what the fallout is for rural Oregon.

Cindy Finlayson, director of economic development and regional affairs for the Umatilla Electric Cooperative, observed that Bradbury's appointment is yet another example of how rural residents are shortchanged in deference to urban interests.

"It's not just the urban-rural divide," she said. "It's the Grand Canyon."

It's time for statewide officials to live up to their oath of office -- and their campaign promises -- to serve all citizens, urban and rural. They can do that by getting out of the big cities and going to rural areas and listening to what citizens there have to say.

Then they can take that newly gained perspective and put it to work for all citizens, not just urbanites.

Only then will the "Grand Canyon" begin to shrink.

Editorial Board
'Grand Canyon' Divides Rural, Urban Worlds
Capital Press, December 30, 2010

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