Election leaves us with fundamental lesson: Every vote counts

If there is a single lesson we should remember from last week’s elections, it’s this: Your vote counts.

We know. We say it over and over again until it almost becomes a mantra. We all know that, at some fundamental or theoretical level, as citizens it’s not just a responsibility, it’s a prerogative to mark that ballot.

But it’s frustrating when, particularly as residents of rural Oregon, we seem to get outvoted on just about everything by our city cousins.

Despite that, any of us who may have been plagued by these doubts got a little slap upside the head, thanks to our local Sweet Home City Council election results, in which two candidates are deadlocked for that fourth seat and another is really not far away with some out-of-county and other loose ballots likely to either clear things up or muddle them further.

One of our staffers once covered an election – in a city larger than Sweet Home – in which a measure passed by a single vote.

Your vote counts, sometimes more than you suspect.

Another lesson from this election is the reminder that such exercises do much more than establish who will be lead us for the next two or four years, depending on which office we’re talking about.

The outcomes serve as a mirror of who we, as a society are.

Here in Oregon, we’ve approved recreational use of marijuana and re-elected a governor who (in the minds of many) really hasn’t done a whole lot in the last four years other than royally mishandle the whole Cover Oregon set-up debacle and take a very ill-timed trip to Bhutan to … well, what was the purpose of that trip, exactly?

Really, the only three truly controversial state measures on the ballot were pot legalization, the proposal to limit general elections to the two top vote-getters in the primary, and the “genetically engineered” foods labeling initiative. All three failed in Linn County, as did the Linn-Benton Community College general obligation bond measure.

Once again, it’s evident that a large chasm exists between the people who inhabit nine-tenths of the state and the residents clustered in the northwestern urban centers.

It’s notable that the Republican “tsunami,” as one area newspaper headline termed it, across the land was not reflected in Oregon voting patterns. Dennis Richardson, who offered enough of a legitimate contrast to Gov. Kitzhaber that he apparently spooked a lot of moderate voters, and Art Robertson, who offered a polar opposite to incumbent Peter DeFazio in our local congressional district, both went down in defeat, though both were winners in Linn County and other rural communities.

Who are we Oregonians? We’re a complex mix, that’s for sure. On one hand, we’re fierce individualists who resent being told what to do by anybody. That is true across the board – liberal or conservative; urbanite or rural resident.

On the other hand, we’ve become increasingly dependent on our government to solve our problems and tell us what to do. Our state is loaded with programs (including the above-mentioned Cover Oregon) aimed at helping the populace through government means, but usually with public tax dollars and increased government influence in our lives.

For city folks as a whole, apparently, this is an acceptable trade-off in the name of taking care of the needy and ensuring that everyone’s rights are upheld.

For the rural population, which certainly has its share of those on the dole, it nonetheless goes across the grain of many who rise before daylight to go forth and sweat to make a living and pay those taxes. It’s kind of an odd mix, but one that is duplicated across our borders, in Washington and California, often to greater excess.

We’re speaking in generalities, of course, but these are also realities in our state.

It’s also annoying, not so much because our rural votes tend to fall on the losing side, but because losing means the people being elected don’t reflect our values.

So what do we do with this?

One of the things Gov. Kitzhaber was accused of by Richardson and other critics was lack of leadership during a very divisive period in our state.

Partisanship has indeed been a problem for Oregon, which ranks low in areas ranging from unemployment to preparedness for health emergencies to hunger to education, per a recent quick review of the statistics.

What is really needed in Oregon is leadership. We need leadership from our governor, who needs to corral squirrely legislators and get something done. We need leadership from those legislators, both on the national and the state levels.

Leadership doesn’t necessarily mean waving a flag and charging ahead. It may mean building coalitions and selling a goal to both sides.

While we may not subscribe to the notion of caving to everything the other party wants to do, simply to get along, we also don’t see a whole lot of benefit in stubbornly digging in our heels and refusing to allow anything to happen – unless it’s over our dead bodies.

We’ve elected these people.

Let’s encourage them to take the lead and do something positive this time around.