Want change? Start with your vote

Oregonians’ COVID experience will likely weigh heavily as we head into this year’s elections.

And it should weigh on politicians as well.

The primaries, on May 17, and the November elections provide an opportunity to send a message to local, state and federal elected officials about what citizens think regarding issues such as individual freedom and responsibility, how strictly businesses should be regulated, state and federal versus local control, etc., etc.

Granted, that’s a mouthful.

But these are issues all of us should think seriously about. And the good news is, a lot of us are thinking about them – perhaps not as analytically as we should (it’s hard to think logically when you’re emotional), but still giving thought to some basics.

We’re thinking about questions such as what is the role of government? At what point does corporate or state authority negate individual responsibility and liberty? What’s the trade-off between security and independence?

Granted, these are not new issues. They’ve been batted about pretty much since the dawn of time and we have plenty of history to show us how the various alternatives play out.

We’re thinking about them now because we’ve seen developments in our state and nation over the past two years that have pushed boundaries.

There’s been a collective sigh of relief, at least from those opposed to what they consider excessive government meddling in the management of the coronavirus pandemic, in response to the announcement last month that the indoor mask mandate will be lifted – first on March 31, then March 19 and now March 11.

All of us knew, when this thing first hit (a very long) two years ago, that we’d look back with much greater clarity than we had as Oregon officials tried to assert control over the virus’ progression, shutting down schools and restricting public gatherings, ordering people to stay home and issuing what many considered draconian mandates on businesses that resulted in impacts that are still evidencing themselves, etc.

While we may assume the best intentions behind some of these moves, the results have been negative and enduring: economic, psychological, social and probably many more that we don’t even recognize yet.

Oregon is one of the last states to drop the mask requirement. When the Oregon Health Authority announced the move, we were one of six states to have a statewide mask mandate for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

When Gov. Kate Brown re-imposed the mask mandate in August of 2021, she said it was necessary to avoid overwhelming the state’s hospitals. The governor’s coronavirus website proclaimed itself as “a framework to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, Oregonians must come together to stay apart. It’s not forever – just for now.”

But that was a Band-Aid solution for a real problem.

Dr. Eric Fruits of the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, which advertises itself as “Oregon’s free-market public policy research organization,” argues that there’s a reason why Oregon has the fewest number of hospital beds per capita in the nation.

Oregon has, for decades, had laws on the books that are designed to reduce the supply of hospital beds and other health care services. Known as “certificate-of-need” laws, they aim to control health care costs by restricting duplicative services and determining whether new capital expenditures meet a community need. In other words, they are “explicitly designed to shield health care providers from competition,” as Fruits puts it.

Oregon’s certificate-of-need program benefit existing hospitals, doctors and other medical providers, pure and simple. It doesn’t necessarily benefit the public. Though the intent of the 1974 federal law that prompted states (withholding federal funding if they didn’t) to enact certificate-of-need programs was ostensibly to control healthcare costs, increase healthcare quality and improve access to care for low-income families, it had the opposite effect, so the federal government repealed the mandate in 1986.

Oregon did not.

That brings us back to one of those “basics” we alluded to above, in this case the danger of meddling with the natural economic order of things.

Granted, the “free market” can be messy and can take time to work out bugs. There can be abuses, but what we’re looking at here appears to be an abuse on the other extreme: excessive government meddling that has resulted in restrictive mandates that have had negative effects across the board. We won’t attempt to specify the ins and outs in this limited space, but any thinking person should be able to see that we’re not in a good place right now.

Another concern, even for those who attest to the efficacy of COVID vaccinations, is the heavy-handed and often inconsistent enforcement of government vaccination mandates.

It’s a problem that is replicated on many fronts in Oregon, highlighted for all of us in this coronavirus experience. It might seem ponderous to harp on this, but the mentality behind the coronavirus mandates is one that extends throughout Oregon politics, at least at the state level and in large municipal regions.

Big Brother in Oregon extends far beyond surveillance, which is what that name, from George Orwell’s “1984” novel, is commonly applied to, particularly for rural residents.

But it’s election season and we have new district lines drawn. But not much will change if voters don’t act. If they don’t like what they see, they need to think about issues and intelligently analyze candidates, then go to the polls and vote for their best choice.

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