Living in Eastern Oregon is wonderful but can be weird — and sometimes annoying.

Before the election we were bombarded with satellite TV ads from Washington’s Murray and Rossi Senate campaigns but saw not one ad for Kitzhaber or Dudley running for governor of Oregon. Maybe it reduced the ads for hospitals, fruit and autos from Yakima and the Tri-Cities.

If it were not for wheat, Wildhorse Casino and Pendleton Round-Up, no one outside would know we exist. Western Oregon certainly runs the state as if we didn’t exist.

Since my wife and I have mostly lived in rural and ex-urban areas, we are familiar with second-class citizenship. Olympia, Wash., was the state capital when we moved to that area in 1972, but state offices — and employees — were mostly in Seattle. Living in Tumwater we were also second fiddle to Olympia.

Olympia changed when city leaders won a suit forcing the state to move state offices to the capital and The Evergreen State College opened its doors. Even then, the Seattle-Tacoma metroplex dominated our lives.

What we experience in Pendleton is more like what we had in the 1990s in remote Potsdam, N.Y., so close to the Canadian border that Ottawa’s airport — one and a half hours away — was closer than Syracuse’s. At least we enjoyed Canadian as well as U.S. television, but here we would have to endure the country’s worst cable company to get Portland broadcasts.

Talk about weird, I can’t imagine how weird it must be for people in Ontario, Ore. They are part of a little piece of Oregon carved into Boise, Idaho’s time zone just as Coeur d’Alene, Moscow and Lewiston are carved into Spokane’s. If you haven’t followed the Pacific/Mountain time zone line on a map, try it. It’s hilarious. Imagine the politics of its creation!

Since my wife and I grew up on the East Coast and have lived as a couple there even more than on the West Coast, almost all of our extended families and half of our friends live there. Even they, pretty much of a well-educated group, can hardly think of Oregon without thinking of wet. They hear Pendleton (maybe it’s the “P”) and think Portland. As a going-away present, one friend gave my wife an umbrella and told us how much her husband loved Seattle! 

Not that most Westerners don’t think the East Coast is paved over, never having seen the endless rolling hills of Pennsylvania or New York’s Adirondack State Park, the largest park in the contiguous United States. Those areas have the same problem we have with distribution of political power.

When we lived in Western Washington, I was glad we outnumbered anti-tax Eastern Washington. But proportionately by population, Eastern Washington is far more populous relative to Western Washington than Eastern Oregon is to Western Oregon.

We have to go over the Cascades to Medford to pick up enough population for our one congressional district. Take out Bend and our population almost disappears in the wilderness.

Because of wheat and the powerful wheat/farm lobby, Eastern Oregon’s only real political clout comes from the national stage, not the state. That’s how we benefit from both wrong-headed farm policy and wrong-headed water policy.

I concede that Wyoming having the same number of U.S. senators as California is a travesty of democracy, and before one-person-one-vote broke the dominance of rural areas over urban areas, the national House of Representatives and most state legislatures were just as bad.

Still, living here, I have a lot more sympathy for the sense of political oppression which rural areas feel.

Last spring, the sorry state of Oregon’s east-west politics was apparent from the re-setting of high school athletic conference boundaries. Four- and five-hour bus transportation between Pendleton and Bend was busting school budgets.

The situation called for some creative state-sponsored cost-sharing across the Cascades to eastern Multnomah County but the cozy schools of Western Oregon, which spend nothing or near-nothing on transportation, wouldn’t have it. Instead, our conference is reduced to four schools and the Bend area to five.

Living in Eastern Oregon is wonderful — but still a little weird.

Ronald Woodbury has a Ph.D. in history and economics. Following a career in college teaching and administration, he and his wife retired to Pendleton where their daughter lives with her husband and four children. He is a member of First Christian Church and volunteers in Elder Mediation for Blue Mountain Mediation.

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