Bend: Rural Oregon for Portlanders
Having grown up eastern Oregon in a town with less than 7,000 people, I was very excited when Governor Kate Brown agreed to participate in a debate with Dr. Bud Pierce where the focus will be rural issues. I then saw that the debate would be taking place in Bend. Now I love Bend, especially the wonderful Deschutes Brewery and their delicious Fresh Squeezed IPA, but can we stop pretending that Bend is representative of the part state that happens to lie east of the Cascades?
Bend had a population of 81,236 in 2013 and has been growing ever since. That is around four to eight times larger than cities that most eastern Oregon folks would associate with Rural Oregon, such as Pendleton (16,935), La Grande (13, 074), Hermiston (17,107), Ontario (11,091), or even Baker City (9,769). Bend's biggest industries are tourism, healthcare and social services, and professional, scientific, and technical services. The median household income in Bend is $52,601. In comparison the largest employers in Hermiston are food packagers and Walmart, and the median household income is $47,279. And let's be honest, a lot of the people living in Bend are just former Californians who came here to retire.
I have picked up on a trend where Bend has become the go to "Eastern" Oregon location for people who do not want to ACTUALLY go to eastern Oregon.
Just take a look at former Secretary of State candidate Val Hoyle's "Statewide Tour".
Now call me crazy, but I don't think you should be able to just swing through Ashland and Bend and say that you've touched based with all parts of the state. The Urban/Rural divide is a big issue that faces a lot of states, but it is especially pronounced here in Oregon. Just take a look at this map put out by The Oregonian showing how rural areas, especially in southern and eastern Oregon are lagging behind their urban counterparts when it comes to poverty, unemployment, and reliance on social services:
We need elected officials who represent more than just the Willamette Valley. Rural Oregon is facing some serious issues, especially some of the former timber towns. Lets hope our candidates come with real solutions for rural Oregon, not just lip service and a photo op drinking craft beer over in Bend.