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Berschauer: Helping working families should be our top priority

 

The results of the 2020 elections are a fascinating reflection of the priorities of most Americans, and specifically Oregonians. In Oregon, concerns about job security, COVID-19 response and economic issues resulted in voters abandoning incumbent politicians of both left and right ideologies in favor of political newcomers with new ideas for solving some of the toughest challenges we face.

Guest Writer

In January, Lindsay Berschauer will begin serving an elected four-year term on the non-partisan Yamhill County Board of Commissioners. She is currently a member of the Yamhill County Budget Committee and Yamhill Community Action Partnership Board, and board president of Building Excellent Schools Together. She previously served as an elected member of the Newberg Rural Fire Protection Board. In addition to owning and operating a small business since 2013, she is raising a teenage son, Benjamin.

Rural residents are experiencing palpable frustration about being left behind by Portland-centric ideas like higher property and income taxation, “smart-growth” land use plans and energy policy that drives costs and kills jobs in the manufacturing and natural resource sectors.

Data from “Oregon by the Numbers,” an annual report produced by the Ford Family Foundation, documents the damage stemming from these policies. It highlights decades-long economic disparities between rural counties and their urban counterparts, which show up in the form of greater human service needs, struggling public schools and working families experiencing the higher costs of living in rural communities while realizing less income than city workers.

Voters began to re-engage last year with the rise of groups like Timber Unity, an organization of loggers, farmers and other natural resource workers intent on helping state and local government understand that personal livelihoods are at stake when politicians embrace special-interest policies like cap and trade taxes.

This disconnect between workers and the people who purport to represent them is exacerbated by government injecting itself into every aspect of our lives. As someone who grew up in a working-class family, I relate to the pressures everyday families are facing.

But there is opportunity in our county if we seize it. That means partnering with citizen groups and grassroots organizations to develop a plan for creating jobs, addressing housing needs and facilitating opportunities within our public education system to help close the income gap.

By virtue of being situated on the outskirts of urban influence and policy, I’m aware of how much pressure there can be to assimilate to urban county policies.

But Yamhill County has one of the largest manufacturing bases in the state, and more than 40% of its land is in active farm or forest use. So we don’t look like Multnomah County and certainly don’t share its values.

Protecting working-class families is my number one focus going forward. It’s not a platitude. It’s a commitment.

First, we need to have a plan for housing that includes affordable access to rental units and the availability of home inventory stock that is within the reach of first-time buyers. People can’t hold a job or get an education without a place to live.

At the county level, we address this issue through land use planning and tax policy. It is simply unacceptable that we aren't making land more readily accessible for housing. 

For families in need and fixed-income seniors, I am interested in looking at property tax deductions to reduce the possibility that more people wind up houseless in our community. As your commissioner, I will also speak out at the Legislature against efforts to end the home mortgage deduction, a proposal that would make home ownership a luxury open only to wealthy buyers.

Next, we have to not only figure out how to get businesses subject to closures and capacity reductions fully back up and running, but also how to protect them from harmful business taxes and employer mandates. At a time when small businesses are struggling, we cannot accept inconsistent policy that arbitrarily pick winners and losers.

If big-box retailers are allowed to remain open during COVID, so should local business on our main streets. And those big-box retailers should not be afforded a lower tax rate. We need across-the-board business fairness.

As a small business owner myself, I know the fastest thing we can do to help our neighbors create jobs is to facilitate their success. Working with local governments to reduce business license fees, encourage enterprise zones and streamline regulatory systems will be essential.

If we’re going to have a strong economic recovery, then the county must take an interest in what’s happening in our public schools as well.

Wherever possible, the county commission should partner with businesses, unions and schools to create opportunities to get our students into family-wage jobs. A skilled and educated workforce is vital to maintaining and growing jobs in the county.

Distance learning isn’t working for many kids, especially high schoolers, who are often suffering in despair. We can do better, and it starts by connecting them to opportunities that get them out from behind a computer and into the world of work.

As someone who worked three jobs to get through college, I believe we must create pathways for kids that don’t result in a mountain of student loan debt and no job to show for it.

Our county needs a comprehensive plan to focus on mental health, suicide prevention, and addiction issues as well. With the passage of Measure 110, effectively legalizing hard drugs, I expect we’ll see our county social safety network at the edge of capacity within a year.

Already, Gov. Brown seeks to delay the Measure 110 funding for drug assessment. That will leave counties stuck with the real costs of the measure.

The COVID-19 crisis is further driving issues of domestic violence and mental health, and there is no end in sight yet. To fund those services, we will need to trim non-essential programs so that our tax dollars stretch further.

We cannot put the burden of county costs onto working families, many of whom are unemployed due to Brown’s executive orders.

Raising new taxes is not a strategy. We have to be smart with the resources taxpayers give us to address these issues.

After being sworn in, I plan to immediately begin advocating county rather than state control of our COVID-19 strategy.  Bureaucrats at Oregon Health Authority are too far removed from what’s actually happening on the ground with our employers.

We need a county process allowing businesses that can open safely to do so, protecting jobs and providing services for residents. That process needs to include the safe reopening of our public and private schools.

The County Health Department can play a role in keeping kids and teachers safe, and ensuring our kids stop falling through the cracks created by an online system that doesn’t account for each child’s educational and student health needs.

Too often, those in government operate in a bubble. They fail to understand the impacts of their decisions on working families, and that erodes taxpayer trust.

A focus on addressing the needs of people who make, grow, and build in our community will go a long way toward the overall health of our residents. In areas of public health, education, housing and job creation, new voices elected in 2020 will make an impact for their constituents.

More than ever, working families need elected officials who will stand up for their rights. I’m ready to get to work.

 

Comments

Treehouse

Ms. Berschauer, your thesis fails between the second and third paragraph. If the "Portland-centric" policies you vaguely target, driven by "urban" interests are the source of community hardships, then the Ford Family study data should have found the greatest community need in urban areas like Portland.

Yamhill County voters are at least entitled to be treated with the respect of not being asked to accept a manifestly illogical premise.

Maybe next time Andrew Miller should hire better ghost writers for you.

Amity fan

Lindsey, you and Starrett need to focus on running the county first - not constantly harping on the state about what you think they're not doing. The county is a mess thanks to some of the "conservatives" who are either in office or who preceded you. Focus on what you were elected to do. If you want to run the state then run for state office instead. You and Starrett are in no position to be calling the shots over a Covid response. The pandemic doesn't recognize county boundaries. The best way for you to help working families is to fix the deep issues at the county.

aesquire

Timber Unity and its leadership are sympathetic to, and closely associated with Q-Anon, and violent, far-right white nationalist organizations.

https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2020/03/timber-unity-racism/

Rural Oregonians have suffered no shortage of hardship over the last 50 years. Some of those hardships are the result of changes in global consumption patterns. Some stem from the rise of new economic competition in developing nations, and the failure of state policymakers to reallocate resources to programs that support rural working families, and help them participate in a post-extraction 21st Century American economy. Some of these hardships are caused by the same national-level policy failures that have afflicted all working people over the last 50 years, regardless of geography. These hardships are real, and deserve serious attention to remedy.

None of these hardships were caused by an imaginary pedophile sex cult, jews, Native Americans, Black Americans, or any of the other targets of Timber Unity’s ire. To exemplify Timber Unity as a legitimate representative of rural working class grievance is irresponsible, and insulting to the many rural Oregonians who have suffered with everyone else without indulging in racist, delusional conspiracy mongering.

treefarmer


Is this propaganda and lip service in print? The underlying convictions of the writer seem to be summed up in this quote:

“…..we don’t look like Multnomah County and certainly don’t share its values.”

Is that not exactly what is continuing to divide and inflame the American people: alienation of “THE OTHER?” Although our politics are quite diverse, and I have a difficult time understanding how folks can support representatives like Trump and Starrett and Berschauer, I continue to believe that my fellow citizens are decent patriotic human beings with whom I share basic values. Unfortunately the aforementioned representatives do not want you to believe the same of me. Is it working?

Politicians who intentionally drive wedges between us to advance their own extreme agendas are toxic to American unity. I am very concerned about the effect Berschauer (in lock-step with Starrett) will have on local government. This article only reinforces and heightens my concerns.