Sitting in a prominent place in my living room is a framed snapshot of two of my grandsons standing in front of the Oregon state Capitol building. So what is so special about that? Well, those grandsons happen to be standing under the Oregon state motto. It reads "A free state is formed and maintained by the voluntary union of the whole people joined together under the same body of laws for the common welfare and the sharing of benefits justly apportioned."
With the fiscal crisis that we are now facing in Oregon, I have found myself looking at that snapshot a lot lately, thinking about what it really means. I have also done a lot of reflecting on Sept. 11, 2001, and what it means to the citizens of our state and the rest of the nation.
I know that the tragedy has brought out a spirit of patriotism that has been sadly lacking in our country. I know people have been wanting to show their patriotism in tangible ways. Flags are seen on homes and vehicles; bumper stickers and posters abound. We publicly honor our heroes - no, not the sports stars - the true heroes; policemen, firemen, and other unsung people who truly show the spirit of heroism.
Sept. 11 also had some serious financial ramifications for all of us. We watched in shock as our investments dwindled. We felt helpless and angry. Well, our state's investments also dwindled and as businesses closed, our unemployment rate soared. I don't find that hard to understand. But some people continue to blame our financial troubles on mishandling of funds and waste in government. If there is waste, and there usually is some, it is a minor part of the problem. The bulk of our state's problems lie in the aftermath of 9-11, just like your investment problems and mine. It also lies in the fact that Oregon operates with a two-legged tax stool while other states have the three-legged variety.
Then I reflect on what lies ahead for our children, our elderly citizens, those who are vulnerable and yes, even those of us who are just plain working people trying to keep our families safe. The direction we are heading is not a "voluntary union of the whole people joined together under the same body of laws for the common welfare..."
Our legislators are unwilling to get off the fence these days. They are so constricted about what is the right thing to do that they have languished for five special sessions trying to find an easy way to solve a problem that can't be solved easily. No one wanted to admit that our state can't operate on the funds available to us. They are so worried about getting reelected that they treat us like children who cannot read, write, understand facts, or make intelligent decisions. They ended up referring Ballot Measure 28 to the voters and have been completely silent about the need to pass it. Not one of them, to my knowledge, has come out in public to support its passage. Barry Goldwater once said, "There are no statesmen anymore." I believe him. There are just people wanting us to vote for them without telling us how they really stand on important issues. On a state and national level, our politicians have forgotten one of the most important parts of governing: compromise for the good of all involved. As it is now, if you are Republican you vote one party line and if you are a Democrat, you vote another and to hell with how their constituents feel.
Our schools are sliding down the slippery slope toward mediocrity and without the valiant efforts of our often unappreciated teachers, many schools would already be at the bottom. We are coming to an era where we will have to have rummage sales to buy books and hold bake sales to raise money for our children to have many of the opportunities that we - you and I - took for granted when we were in school. Most of us are parents or grandparents. Can you really look into the mirror and honestly say to your reflection that this is the direction you want for Oregon's children? Even if you are unmoved by that question, is this the atmosphere you want to project to attract businesses and good jobs to your state? And finally, can you not remember the opportunities you and your children had - opportunities provided by those taxpayers who came before you (even in bad financial times).
Another deeply troubling area is the plight of our elderly, our poor and our most vulnerable citizens. The cuts that will be necessary in our near future, if we don't step up, may be impersonal to you and to me but they are anything but to those older citizens who will no longer have assistance so they can remain in their homes. They will be very real to the children who will have even fewer people to advocate for them in life-threatening situations. They will be very real to people who have hit rock bottom in their life and are desperately seeking a way out of their addiction. The means to make that life change won't be available any more.
Oh, I know the feeling of helplessness when we are treated like numbers instead of humans. I know that we often feel rebellious and make decisions to "show them" we won't take any more of government's nonsense. Yes, we are powerful people. We can make sure that we never vote for anything they ask for in the way of funding. We have that right but do we really want to cut off our noses to spite our face, as my mother used to say. Do we, as responsible, caring citizens of Oregon, really want to show the politicians so badly that we will sacrifice our children, our elderly and our vulnerable citizens?
I am asking that you consider your citizenship in the state of Oregon and your patriotism as you contemplate the Jan. 28 vote. I know it is an often-quoted phrase but I am going to say it again. It will probably cost me the price of a weekly latte or maybe a movie rental and I think I can handle that. It is a small price to pay to have this stopgap in place so that we can continue to operate without these drastic cuts.
Rusty Fisher lives in Pendleton.