Jobs and Economic Opportunity


In 1992 James Carville, a strategist for Bill Clinton coined the phrase, “it’s the economy, stupid”. It was meant to remind the campaign that people were still hurting from the 1990/91 recession. Well, here we are in 2017, and the 2nd district of Oregon is still hurting, and in fact, with the exception of a few areas like Bend and along the Columbia corridor, there has been little recovery from the great recession.

Bluntly speaking, most of rural Oregon has been left behind in the economic recovery. There are fewer jobs today than before the recovery, and those that have returned are mostly lower wage service jobs. Nearly every county east of the north south line from Bend has 2 to 20 percent less jobs now than before the crash of 2007. Crook down 19%. Gilliam down 20%. Harney down 10%. Grant down 16%. The exceptions are Hood River, Sherman and Wasco due to their proximity to Portland and the I84 corridor. When you combine the loss of jobs with an aging population (retirement age population in central Oregon grew by 24% from 2010 to 2015), and the loss of working age youth, it is a perfect storm for continuing economic decline in the district.

The problem is so severe it requires a congressman who is 100% focused on the district. Yet our current congressman, Greg Walden, spends his time courting and supporting Wall Street banks, Telecoms, and the Health Industry. He returns home infrequently to announce at town halls that the House of Representative has passed over 300 bills. What he does not mention however is that those bills include things like repealing your health insurance, preventing control of skyrocketing cable and internet bills, permitting timber companies to spray pesticides into our drinking water, and turning the banks loose to once again gamble away your deposits in the stock market. But hey, why quibble about details?

Rural Oregon was once dependent on timber and wood product manufacturing. Unfortunately over 50% of the industry has left, and it is never going to return. Contrary to Republican propaganda, this is not the fault of tree huggers or spotted frogs. It is cheaper and longer lasting non-wood materials in construction. It is cheaper overseas labor. Okay, that is the hand we have been dealt, so what do we do about it? What does the district have to offer? We have land in great supply and we have natural beauty. To extract the benefits from both we need to first open up the district with a bold infrastructure road-building plan. My vision is an interstate from I5 near Ashland, over to Klamath Falls, then north using highway 97 as the roadbed all the way to I84. Followed up with an east west connector from I84 in Ontario westward through the Bend / Redmond area, through the Cascades to I5. With this development we will pursue the relocation of companies with modern, good paying jobs, into the district. We will support these companies with large solar farms to supply the energy they need to operate, and eventually wean Oregon completely off fossil fuel-based energy. Following the model of Alaskan oil revenue sharing, each county that opts in to the solar program will share in the revenue generated from the solar farms. Opening up the district with modern roads will enable a huge increase in eco-tourism to places such as the Malheur sanctuary, John Day fossil beds, and the Painted Hills. The result will be hotels, resturaunts, shops, and an economy that will allow families to stay together and share in the American dream.

Yes, I know the naysayers will now stand up and argue about protecting rangeland, farmland, mountains, lakes, etc. etc. I have read all 19 of Oregon’s Goals and Guidelines to public land use. There is nothing that says we cannot do what I have proposed. And anyway, I am not proposing turning the 2nd district into urban Chicago. My vision is to protect and ensure the rights of the people of the 2nd district to meaningful employment, including our ranchers and farmers who opened up this great state. They have not gotten a fair shake thus far and it is time for someone to stand up for them. From 1990 to 2015 manufacturing jobs in the district fell by 50% while Portland’s share alone grew from 49% to 58%. Oregon lumber production in 1950 was 9 BILLION board feet annually. It has been reduced by 55%. The industry is never coming back to where it once was. Since the great recession, the ONLY jobs that have returned to pre-recession levels in rural Oregon have been lower paying food and service jobs. Government jobs in the district account for 24% of non-farm employment. Perhaps somebody should tell Walden that the U.S. budget he is so intent on reducing is responsible for keeping a quarter of his constituents employed. The district has the lowest per capita income of the five Oregon congressional districts. 11 of the 20 counties in CD2 have per person income BELOW $20,000 annually. And not surprising, these same counties have the highest government aid transfer payments.

It is time for a change. It is time the 2nd district to begin its path into the 21st century, ensuring families are able to stay together. Where you can afford a house. Where you can send your kids to a well-funded school with programs that will ensure their future. You can reclaim your share of the American dream.