Say goodbye to “the common good”

I ranted a couple of days ago about our cowardly legislators, and I suppose this is a related topic. The election results are in, and I am very depressed all over again.

I was born and grew up in Oregon, although I haven’t lived here all my life. But I’m old enough to remember when there WAS an Oregon. People who lived here or were from here were always proud of the fact. Oregon was different. It was, perhaps, peopled by an odd assortment of folks, but it worked, maybe because there were so many odd ones. They respected each other’s right to be odd.

Now, it seems we live in a divided state. It’s divided in many ways, but certainly the most obvious one is the urban/rural divide. And the differences are so great that it might as well be two different planets.

More than half of Oregon’s population lives in three counties–Multnomah (Portland), Washington (Beaverton/Hillsboro), and Clackamas (the eastern suburbs). The combined weight of all these bodies (and votes) is enough to skew most elections in favor of what the urbanites want. And far, far too many of them have no idea what Oregon is really all about.

But what’s worse, they have no idea that what is a great solution for Portland may not play out so well in counties where the average town population is under 10,000 people. Or if they do, they don’t care.

Here are the election results:

Measure 49 (severing restricting the property rights voted in twice by the people of Oregon in majority votes, most recently in Measure 37): Passed handily, about 62% of the vote statewide. But the heavy yeses were all in the populous counties. The lesser populated counties had a mix, but generally voted no.

Measure 50 (adding a very large tax to each pack of cigarettes to pay for children’s health care): Failed. No one disagrees that children need health insurance, but as one columnist pointed out, if we really think it’s so important, a levy of $1.29 a month on each household would pay for the program. The legislature had extra money this year and opted to allocate not a cent of it for the project. I’d like to note at this point that Measure 50 actually passed in Multnomah County, the only county in which it did. But it did not pass by sufficient margin to outweigh the votes of the rest of the state. In more rural areas, people are aware that the ones they are taxing are their neighbors, and they seem more sensitive to issues of fairness.

I’m actually in favor of things like user fees. If they would tax cigarettes to pay for the increased health costs of smoking, I probably would even vote for that. If they would license bicycles to pay for bicycle lanes, I’l love it (and I would have a way to identify the asshole bicycle riders that you meet occasionally). Let’s increase alcohol taxes and spend the money on drunk driving enforcement and additional police officers and more treatment programs. That sort of thing actually makes sense.

One of the concepts that the original European settlers brought with them was the concept of “the commons.” Each of the old, old towns you find on the east coast has a “commons” area. The commons was a part of the landscape that residents shared. Each resident could graze a cow or sheep on the commons instead of having to have enough property to do it at their residence.

The commons was a cooperative concept. No one was allowed to hog the grazing space. It was for the good of all.

What I think we’ve lost is the idea that decisions should be measured in terms of what is “good for all.” It seems to have been replaced by “what is good for me”: “This is important, but I don’t want to pay for it. Who can we stick with the bill?”

I’m also tired of being barraged with the old canard that I need to maintain my place in its pristine condition so that city residents can take a drive in the country and enjoy the view. Aside from the fact that they often trespass, leave behind beer cans and other garbage, and roar down the road with radios blaring, I frankly don’t think it’s my responsibility to maintain their amusement. Of course, if they wanted to help pay my property taxes and other maintenance costs, I might feel differently.

I have another rant about our state’s largest newspaper, but I think it’s going to have to wait for tomorrow.

But I have to admit I’m mulling over new possible meanings for the “not im my back yard” attitude.

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