“Justa lookin’ for a home”

Author: Barrett Rainey

We live in one of the five counties of Southwest Oregon. Mild and pleasant most of the time. In many ways, a scenic and comfortable place to spend your later years. Lots of people like it here. Many come looking for Nirvana. And, I suppose, some find it. We haven’t.

Several factors have precipitated a relocation decision but much of our discomfort here is political. If you hold any publically expressed thought to the left of Rasputin, this can be a very cold and lonely environment. Should the Republican primary ballot contain the names of Donald Trump and Abraham Lincoln, Ol’ Abe would be returned to his law practice in Illinois. Or maybe become a lobbyist.

Friends can be hard to come by if your moderate ways are exhibited. We have a number of folks we enjoy. They’re good people. But it’s easy to feel like a distinct minority when anything political is discussed in the general population.

Though our county is large geographically, there are only about 110,000 souls living in it. Our community of about 21,000 is the largest concentration. So, there’s lots of room. But that 21,000 population, for example, can be deceiving. That’s the 2010 census. Go back to 2000 and the number was 20,000. That’s a growth factor of less than 1% without compounding. In ten years! The fact is more people die here than are born here.

One reason for that is a large Veteran’s Administration health facility. Many who move here are vets; retired or otherwise. So, not only is this not a typical growth area with all ages represented, it’s also resulted in one of the older county populations, on average, in the State of Oregon.

Then there’s unemployment. Officially about 12%. Given the closing of some timber operations and reduced staffing at others, and the fact many of those previous jobs won’t be coming back, the rate is calculated by our county commissioners at more than 20%. Throw in those who have run out of extended benefits, those who’ve quit looking, others who aren’t eligible for assistance in the first place and that rate could well be 25%. Or more. Times are tough. And that feeds the feelings of frustration and anger that can isolate people. So, some have just moved on. A good many businesses have closed.

Politically, the atmosphere can be normal at times. At county level, for example, despite an overwhelmingly really conservative electorate, we have a Democrat and two Republicans. A real local aberration. But, as a group, I’d give them high marks for dealing with so many problems so well and effectively. We’ve lucked out there.

But congressionally, well, it gets strange. In November, 2010, we had a choice. A “ho hum” Democrat incumbent of many years. Or a Republican Party nominee with a doctorate degree who makes a good part of his living publishing and selling racist home schooling texts. He calls public education a “prison system,” would eliminate the Dept. Of Education, wants to go back to the gold standard, sees conspiracies in all who differ with him, flings unfounded charges at the state’s university system for “conspiring” against his doctoral candidate offspring and whose highest claim to fame is he was once fired by fellow scientist Robert Oppenheimer. Another good decision, Bob.

Still, the nutcase got a lot of votes. Only neighboring Lane County, with a high Democrat Party base associated with the University of Oregon, kept us from sending this educated crackpot to Washington, D.C.

I’m a believer in a robust two-party system. As an independent by both nature and registration, I like to take a little bit from here and some from there and keep it interesting. I’ve never been a fan of political inbreeding. Congress is “Exhibit A” on that.

But the Oregon Legislature is currently working with a 30-30 party tie in the House. Despite some doubt going in, the seemingly inevitable stalemate hasn’t occurred and, in fact, some very good legislation has emerged. Proof again that neither party has all the answers or a lock on talent.

I don’t want to be too hard on our five county neighborhood. I’m sure there are folks who feel right at home here, surrounded by like-minded thinkers. I’m happy for them.

But we’ve begun looking over the horizon to some other Oregon locales where conditions are more – well – bipartisan. There are such places and several seem to fit our desire for more diverse and accepting surroundings.

Keep an eye on your street. That moving truck that starts off-loading next door may be us.

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