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In election’s aftermath, urban-rural divide has never seemed wider

By Eric Mortenson

EO Media Group

Published on November 21, 2016 6:16PM

Laurier, Washington, rancher Len McIrvin addresses a Cattle Producers of Washington meeting. He believes city residents are controlled by the “mindbenders” of the media, Hollywood and conventional politics.

EO Media Group/Matthew Weaver

Laurier, Washington, rancher Len McIrvin addresses a Cattle Producers of Washington meeting. He believes city residents are controlled by the “mindbenders” of the media, Hollywood and conventional politics.

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Geoff Horning, executive director of Oregon Aglink

John Breese of Prineville.

EO Media Group file/Eric Mortenson

John Breese of Prineville.

Conservation Northwest Director Mitch Friedman.

EO Media Group file/Don Jenkins

Conservation Northwest Director Mitch Friedman.

In Central Oregon, cattle rancher and timberland owner John Breese figures Donald J. Trump’s election may finally bring some common-sense management to the state’s choked forests.

In Seattle, Conservation Northwest Executive Director Mitch Friedman warns supporters, “A lying, bigoted brute has seized power, and you’re well familiar with his intentions.”

In the Willamette Valley, the heart of an Oregon wine industry that has risen to international acclaim, pioneering winemaker David Adelsheim considers the fact that his Yamhill County voted Republican, “But I don’t know a single person who voted for Trump.”

In the wake of a bitter presidential campaign and tight election, the gap has never seemed so wide.

“An urban-rural divide?” a commenter on the OregonLive.com website wrote this past week. “The rural folks support racism, the urban folks do not. Make no mistake rural Oregon, if you voted for Trump, you said racism is OK.”

A commenter on the other side said Portland “progressives” think people outside Multnomah County are “a bunch of uneducated hicks.” Rural residents, the commenter said, are “just about fed up with Portlandia pie in the sky BS.”

“Enjoy the Trump administration, Portland, your residents are the reason Republicans are running the show.”

Islands of blue

It’s no revelation the West Coast election map looks like small islands of Democrat blue surrounded by seas of Republican red, with the votes cast in heavily populated blue cities dominating those from rural areas.

The Atlantic magazine described it after President Obama’s re-election in 2012: “The new political divide is a stark division between cities and what remains of the countryside.”

Every major U.S. city has a different outlook than the less-populous areas closest to it, the magazine declared.

“Because winning a state’s electoral votes requires only a simple majority, a single city can change the entire game,” The Atlantic concluded.

Conservative scholar Victor Davis Hanson said in a 2015 column in the Los Angeles Times that most “hot button” issues — abortion, gun control, same-sex marriage, defense spending — “break along rural or urban lines.”

Some wonder if the election might have sundered any connection that remained between the two.

Urban ‘mindbenders’

Eastern Washington cattle rancher Len McIrvin said city residents are controlled by the “mindbenders” of the media, Hollywood and conventional politics and don’t realize what’s going on in the “heartland.”

“Waters of the U.S.” proposals, the Endangered Species Act, clean air and clear water rules and “safety” laws that restrict truckers’ hours are examples of the “terrible burden” placed on producers, he said.

McIrvin said wolves, which spread into Oregon and Washington after being reintroduced in Idaho under federal wildlife policy, have killed an estimated 70 head of his cattle this year.

“Wolves do what wolves do, but the regulations say I can’t protect my cattle,” he said. “These regulations are bringing us down to our knees.”

Breese, the Central Oregon landowner, said he listens to Oregon Public Broadcasting, public radio, and is alarmed by what seems an “agenda” to “save the forests and preserve things.” Urban residents don’t understand the land needs to be managed, he said.

City people want the latest consumer items to be available at stores, but oppose the use of fossil fuels needed by delivery trucks, he said.

“They’ve got a job where they can ride a bicycle to work,” he said. “Some of us have got to have four-wheel drive with a trailer and horses behind.

“It’s hard to get your voice heard,” Breese said. “If you go to the Legislature, you get three minutes. You drive three hours, get three minutes (to testify), and it’s three hours back.”

Breese said it was “cast in stone“ that Oregon, Washington and California would align with Hillary Clinton, and he was pleased Trump won enough states elsewhere to claim the presidency.

Trump may loosen natural resource restrictions, appoint some conservative judges and slow down the Environmental Protection Agency, he said.

He doesn’t understand why Trump opponents took to the streets to protest the result. Portland endured six nights of noisy marches. Police declared the first night’s march a riot as alleged anarchists in the crowd smashed windows and threw objects at officers. A Toyota dealership alone sustained an estimated $200,000 damage, and police arrested at least 113 people over several days.

“If Hillary would have won, we wouldn’t have been rioting in our alfalfa fields,” Breese said.

Surprised the out-of-touch

Hanson, the conservative scholar, wrote in a post-election Los Angeles Times column that Trump’s win surprised the out-of-touch.

“But was it so hard to imagine that a third-generation Mexican American might fear — more so than the gated residents of Malibu and Santa Monica — the impact of illegal immigration on his neighborhood school or community? Or that an out of work lathe operator was not a big fan of globalization?”

The divide prevails, but some continue casting lines to the other side.

Dan Arp, dean of Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences, often says food is “the handshake between urban and rural.”

Friedman, executive director of the Seattle-based Conservation Northwest, said an overwhelming majority of Americans favor a healthy environment that provides clean air, clean water and abundant wildlife. He said his group collaborates with loggers and ranchers to find a balance between timber harvests, grazing, wolf protection and ancient forests.

“I don’t know if that’s enough to bridge the gap that exists in America,” he said. “I know we’re committed to doing our part.

“If the core of environmental laws went away, would people in the timber and ag communities that have collaborated, would they still be with us?” Friedman said. “I don’t know. I want to believe most would.”

Trump listened

Russ Vaagen, who represents the third-generation of family ownership in Vaagen Brothers Lumber Inc., of Colville, Washington, said Trump won because he appeared willing to listen to rural concerns.

Vaagen voted for Trump — “I’m not ashamed of it, over 60 million people did” — but serves on the board of directors for Sustainable Northwest, a Portland nonprofit that seeks collaboration on natural resource issues.

“This election was about rural America standing up and wanting to be heard,” he said.

Geoff Horning, executive director of Oregon Aglink, an advocacy group, said people in agriculture have to continue explaining themselves and their practices to urbanites. Even residents of liberal hotbeds like Portland and Eugene are “just people,” he said. “They would be really supportive if they knew more.

“If I’ve taken anything out of this election it’s that sometimes when things look the darkest is when opportunity strikes,” Horning said. “Maybe this is the thing that sparks a real conversation.”


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