As it happened, yesterday (9/13) I had an appraisal in Spray, which meant I had to pull records in Fossil, the county seat for Wheeler County. At lunch time I bought an Oregonian at the store (only one store in Fossil), and read it at the Big Timber restaurant by the 4 way stop just below the High School. The closest thing the entire 1,700 square mile County has to a signal light is at that corner - a four-way blinking red light.
On the Editorial page was an article by E. J. Dionne Jr. entitled End of the Bush Era. (Sorry, I don’t have a link to it.) I read it, thought it was good, liked what it said, and then looked around me. There I was in Fossil, which due to school being in session had about 460 people there out of the 1,500 people in the County. And I had to wonder - is all this stuff we care about and think about touching these people?
I'm sure that the people of Fossil know about the deceptions of Bush about Iraq and the failure of leadership in responding to Katrina – they don’t live in an information blackout. But does it touch them? Other than Bend (which I sometimes think of as the eastern most town in the Willamette Valley), and other than Hood River/The Dalles (which are starting to act like upscale Portland suburbs); the eastern 2/3rds of Oregon doesn't seem to really pay that much attention to the national/international news. Its sort of like Idaho, I'd bet Bush's approval rating is still around 50% because people reflexively support the President, even if they know he’s a total screw-up. The average house in Fossil is 100 years old. Things don't change much decade-to-decade, never mind day to day.
So, after reading the article, and thinking these thoughts over lunch, I decided to try a few things out.
When I went down to Spray and went through the house I was appraising, the conversation with the owners eventually turned to the one issue people here end up talking about sooner or later - how they distrust the "city" people. It came up in the form of saying that they were glad that I was able to come over from Prineville do to the appraisal, because the lender had told them that an appraiser out of Portland might have to come - and nobody wants someone from Portland to come - what do they know about Eastern Oregon? So, I got to talking with them about how lots of people just didn't understand what life was like over here. How it can be difficult to get your car repaired, or difficult to get good health care, etc.
And then they were "off to the races". He was disabled in an accident. She has health concerns that require medication, and one of their children had some minor health problems. They haven't been able to afford health insurance until just recently, and the Oregon Health plan is set up to be virtually unworkable for many rural people. When they were on it, they said they had to go to Condon (70 miles or so) for basic stuff like Rx renewals. I was able to interject that a group I was in had taken a position in favor of national health care. These people really liked that idea. Due to necessity, they have come to view health care as something that should be a universal right.
In other words, these people were primed and ready to vote Democratic - life forces poor people to confront issues in terms that only lead to support for the positions of the Democratic Party. Rural Oregon is full of people like this.
Alas, as an Appraiser, it really isn't appropriate to go any further than I did in this situation. It wouldn't have been appropriate to whip out the voter registration card and sign them up as Democrats on the spot. But, today, tomorrow, and for awhile I will ponder how to take the last step to "turn the corner" with people like these so that they can see that voting Democratic is in their own best interests. We are very close to that corner.