Do What You Can Do 10/20/2021

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Senator Jeff Golden

 *  “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”  
—Helen Keller

photo of the Oregon State Capitol

Latest on the redistricting drama

The last newsletter reported on the special session in late September, when we approved new maps for state legislative districts and Congress on party-line votes. It was easy to predict that the Congressional map would get challenged in court, because the stakes go so far beyond Oregon’s boundaries. Control of the House of Representatives, and with it the country’s likely direction through the 2020s on healthcare, climate action, taxation and budgets, abortion rights and so much more, could easily hinge on how a handful of states draw their lines.

And challenged it was. Last week prominent Republicans including Bev Clarno, who was appointed in 2019 to finish the late Dennis Richardson’s term as Secretary of State, filed a court challenge to the Congressional map, calling it an “egregious partisan gerrymander.” If the court agrees, a panel of five judges will draw Oregon’s new map.

Congressional redistricting map

If you want to dip a little deeper in the partisan flavoring of the competing maps, Andy Kerr’s blog post is the clearest coverage I’ve seen (spoiler alert—he’s an unabashedly partisan guy).

In that newsletter I also asked for your take on moving redistricting authority from the legislature to an independent redistricting commission. Are you a “good government” type who wants to end the conflict of interest inherent when legislators create the districts they run in, or a realpolitik type who says that gerrymandering is just how things work in this country, and the party that won’t do it is the party that loses, period? So far the tally is realpolitikers 7, good government nerds 2. I’m still listening.

photo of wildfire

A national look at wildfire efforts

Thinking it could be a national model, The Christian Science Monitor sent journalist Martin Kuz to Southern Oregon to check out our community approach reducing the scale and destructiveness of our wildfires. After a couple months of research, here’s the cover story he produced.

COVID vaccination mandates

Senator Golden in line for his COVID vaccine

Waiting in Medford behind a few dozen other folks for shot #1.

I’ve been asked recently if I’ve been vaccinated for COVID. Yes—two Moderna shots and a booster coming soon. It’s a cost/benefit decision. The bottom line from information I have is that the benefit of markedly reducing my chances of getting very sick, or making others very sick, outweighs the risk of a big adverse impact down the road. Through the year I’ve used television and social media to push that message out and urged vaccination-resistant people to bring as much skepticism to flaming claims on the Internet as they do to messages from the CDC or Oregon Health Authority, and to choose vaccination unless a specific vulnerability puts them at higher risk.

At the same time I’ve been openly concerned with broad-based government mandates for COVID vaccination. After reading that, some past supporters weighed in with disappointment and sometimes anger.  I asked a couple of displeased friends to help me understand the intensity. What I learned is that some of it is straight-up exhaustion with the pandemic, the way it’s devastated some families and upended all our lives, along with hopes this vaccine will end an unending nightmare. But it’s more than that. There is a furious revulsion with years of “alternative facts,” Q-Anon, “stolen elections,” sieges of the Capitol and cruel committed bigotry. A background theme behind the anger I’ve heard is “These are the same people who’ve been tearing down all we care about for decade. We HAVE to beat them back. And now you’re siding with them?” 

No. But I read or listen to much of what they send me, part of an elected representative’s job description. Over time the listening has dwindled. I’m on the delete key fast when someone writes that their individual rights are the only thing that matters, with no clue that the balance of rights and responsibilities is what makes this whole thing work. Nor is there any point reading another warning about Bill Gates’ plan to enslave us with microchips. 

Over-the-top messages are the ones that grab the media spotlight until all vaccine skeptics are lumped together as jerks who deserve no attention. I spoke up in part to warn against that. I hoped that as the emerging flow of new information about the virus kept coming, there could be room for openly considering dissenting views from well-credentialed people. 

I’ve come to think there’s not. Not now. This post will be the last I have to say about vaccine mandates for a while. It’s time to pull energy and focus back to vital legislative issues—issues where, unlike COVID, I actually have a decision-making role. They include wildfire, fair taxation, broader access to healthcare and housing, the cannabis crisis, climate generally and dealing with drought specifically, campaign finance reform…more on those as the 2022 session comes closer. But before turning the page, l want to be direct about two concerns.

COVID vaccine graphic

One is the shrinking zone of socially acceptable dialogue about the virus and the vaccination. Yes, it’s true that unlimited, anything-goes speech has hurt us badly in recent years, whether it’s stolen-election “proof” or Bill Gates’ evil plots. But we risk overreacting to that. Too many chapters of modern history show how making dissent dangerous is dangerous. The scientific method, as I understand it, relies on sustained questioning of a hypothesis to refine and clarify it. That’s especially important when, as we’re seeing now, new and sometimes surprising information seems to emerge every week or so. A local physician and researcher spoke to this in an email to me this week:   

Without unbiased research free of conflicts of interest and open scientific discourse regarding findings and concerns, science is doomed to be coopted and corrupted. Our country’s current policy of discrediting, censoring and ruining the reputation of scientists who reveal other valid research or clinical experience, in the name of science, is dangerous, and we are finding challenging the narrative is extremely dangerous. 

Second, finally, I worry that a long-lasting cost to vaccine mandates isn’t getting considered. For the last decade or more our country and state have moved towards the brink of a civil rupture unlike any we’ve lived through, one that might not heal in our lifetimes. A vaccine mandate could be what pushes us over the edge. What we have here is not, in the words of one email I received, “hurting the feelings of people who don’t want to get vaccinated.” This is not like mask and distancing mandates, or proof of vaccination to enter theaters or sporting events. 

Coerced vaccination is in a class by itself. For some it’s a singularly deep violation of personal autonomy, a kind of subjugation. They won’t forget. In exchange for marginally lifting vaccination rates now, are we sowing the seeds of lifelong alienation, even hatred, for civic society and public health programs? Meanwhile the crises that desperately need us to pull together keep on coming.  

It follows that we should design any mandate to minimize numbers of coerced people. The growing call to exempt people who’ve already had COVID and show robust antibody strength is one way to do that. So could a hospital administrator’s suggestion to exempt behind-the-scenes administrative staff who never interact with patients. There are other options for narrowing mandates going forward. They probably all have practical challenges, but the cost/benefit analysis needs to include impacts that could last much longer than this pandemic. Scalpels will serve us better than blunt instruments.

Thank you for reflecting on all this. I’m hoping for awareness that none of us has a corner on complete  understanding of this puzzling, evolving pandemic, and that in different ways just about everyone is struggling mightily right now. In the words of the most moving song I know, “Every single one of us could use some mercy now.”

Jeff (Signature)

Senator Jeff Golden, Oregon Senate District 3

Rep Marsh's Canabis eventRep. Marsh's cannabis forum
  • This community forum will provide an opportunity to hear from individuals and agencies on the front lines regarding the issues that have emerged, including permitting, regulatory response, law enforcement, code compliance, worker conditions, water usage, and past and potential future legislation.

  • The Zoom link for this event is coming soon. When the link is available, it will be posted here.
Food pantry map

Food resources

  • If you are experiencing food insecurity, there is a network of food pantry across Jackson County with shelf stable and fresh food. Visit Access' page to locate a food pantry near you. Before visiting one of these pantries, call Access to verify the hours of operation: (541) 779-6691
  • For more information about food assistance programs in Oregon, visit this page.
COVID graphic

COVID resources

Capitol Phone: 503-986-1703
Capitol Address: 900 Court St NE, S-421, Salem, OR, 97301 
Podcast: Capitolizing