Please Don’t Silence the Rural Voice in Oregon

The Oregon legislature is currently taking on the enormous task of redistricting. This happens once every 10 years and coincides with census data. This year is a bit different because census data is not planned to be compiled until after the deadline of redistricting here in Oregon. So the question then becomes, how can this process be done fairly and accurately so as to not marginalize or silence the voices of so many? The answer is that it truly needs to be done by an independent commission, not politicians.

So why as a rural Oregonian do I even care about district lines? To answer that question you will have to check back with my last blog. A few weeks ago I wrote about a terrible experience where my rural voice was marginalized to about half the weight of those who were speaking in opposition to my testimony. I know I’m in the minority in many situations, but does that give my voice less importance than anyone else’s? It certainly shouldn’t. And yet I am supposed to sit back while our voice gets cut up into tiny pieces along district lines, just so this can continue?

When you break it down, you can’t deny the fact that rural voices are being marginalized. And this isn’t the first or the last time this will happen, we need to do better, Oregon needs to do better. Which is why I still showed up, just a few hours after being silenced, to testify yet again and try to be heard.

In listening to testimony on the issue of redistricting, I have heard people question the term rural and question MY identity. This is wrong, and it’s offensive.

Did you know…
**25 of Oregon’s 36 counties are categorized as “non-metro” rural, meaning they have no communities of 40,000 or more residents.
**Ten of those counties have population density of less than 6 people per square mile.
**Even Oregon’s most populous counties have many rural and agriculture-dependent residents.
**The lower population of these communities makes them more vulnerable to gerrymandering, where districts are drawn to dilute the voice of these rural citizens.

As a farmer, I know when something doesn’t work. When it doesn’t work, we must change the process. Having legislators choose their electorate is innately a conflict of interest – perhaps the greatest conflict of interest. Seeing how the committees are split up with majority Democrats, knowing the Democrats have control of the Secretary of State and the Governor’s office, I can only believe those that hold all the power want to keep that power, and will draw the lines accordingly. I also can’t help but notice both chairs (Rep. Taylor & Rep. Salinas) of the committee formed for this project are from the greater Portland metro area. I have spent enough time in the Capitol and advocating for the agricultural community to know how “understanding” Portland legislators are of communities outside Portland. In fairness I would also guess that I don’t understand a lot of what needs there are to be determined within the metro area either.

In listening to public testimony over the past multiple weeks, the overwhelming ask is to move this responsibility out of the hands of partisan politicians and into an independent nonpartisan commission and I completely agree.

We know how partisan and divided our state and country is. There is an opportunity to choose people over political power, and ultimately choose what is best for Oregon. The current political situation we find ourselves in makes it difficult, maybe impossible, to achieve fairness without political gerrymandering. Rural district boundaries have been superseded and overshadowed by larger metro areas, and because of this, has diluted voices just like mine.

Marginalized and Silenced; Voices being dammed at the legislature

I have been a participant in the legislative process for as long as I have been farming.  If you have been following this blog for any small period of time you probably know that very well.  And if you’re in Oregon you also know that the legislature is currently in session, with bills piling up, some for and some against agriculture.  You probably also know that I’m a mom while being a farmer and advocate.  So my time is often prioritized with farming and mom-ing all mixed together.

Yesterday was no different.  There is a bill (HB 2488) which would create much more burdensome regulation surrounding the taking of beavers that do damage to our property.  Currently you are allowed to take beaver year round without a permit.  I will post my testimony below regarding this issue and what it means to me as a landowner and farmer. 

But first I want you to watch this hearing in the Committee On Agriculture and Natural Resources. I want you to see what our “transparent and open” legislative process looks like first hand. I’m warning you, it’s not pretty. It’s actually really disturbing. Here is the clip….

Now after seeing that I want to tell you that while I was sitting at home, trying to keep my kids quiet so I could testify when my time came, I was appalled by how Representative Witt handled this entire process. Because I think after watching the video you might agree, that he could have cared less what anyone was saying, he didn’t even have the courtesy to allow the time that HE GAVE TO US to testify!

A panel of three people was given 8 minutes by Rep. Witt.  Rep. Davis Brock Smith took 2:45.  Now I’m no math genius but I think 8-2:45=5:15 minutes remaining.  He proceeds to tell Mary Anne Cooper of the Oregon Farm Bureau (who represents over 6000 farmers and ranchers in Oregon) she has only 30 seconds.  Setting aside his own timeline and cutting her by an unconscionable amount of time.  Then you will see at the end he said that 4 people could testify, each for one minute.  
Math Genius here again….
4×1=4 minutes.
2×1=2. Two people spoke, and two were missing. 
4-2=2 minutes remaining. 
And instead of asking the next two people on his list if they would like the opportunity to take that time, we were all silenced by the swift hitting of the gavel.  Hearing closed.

Even after it closed another Representative Jami Cate asked that we revisit the public testimony, which she would like to hear more on this issue.  And was answered with, “no.”

I have been in the Capital and felt “unheard”.  I have testified and been cut off for going too long.  I have been not believed and publicly told so.  But never have I ever seen such a mismanagement of the public process.  I was there ready to take my minute to say my piece and I am allowed to; Mary Anne Cooper was there to stand up for farmers and ranchers across Oregon for who this is a very big issue.  And yet we were all silenced in such a disrespectful and unprofessional manner. 

If you didn’t think minds were already made up in this process then watch that video again.  If you time it, proponents of the bill received 10 minutes, while opponents received 5.5 minutes and were constantly interrupted to tell them their time was over.  Half the time….that’s how much weight was put on our testimony, half.  Not one person, proponent or opponent should be happy with what they see.  Not one person should watch that and not see a sham of a public hearing.  What a joke.

Here is my testimony.  Here is my voice on my own blog because due to a complete disregard for the public process that is our current legislature, it will never be heard as public testimony.

HB 2844               
CHAIR WITT AND MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE

Good afternoon,

My name is Brenda Frketich and I own a diversified and sustainable farm in St. Paul.  I am asking you to oppose HB 2844.

Beaver management is critical to maintaining my farm infrastructure, protecting my crops such as hazelnuts and poplars, preventing flooding, and maintaining roads.

My opposition to higher and over burdensome regulation surrounding these rodents is for two reasons; first the extensive damage that they cause and secondly because there is an abundant population.

The damage that is caused by beavers is extensive on our farm. We grow poplar and hazelnut trees. Both of which receive damage when beavers move into the area. They take entire trees of any size to make their dams. Not only do they destroy actual crop, they also in turn destroy cropland. The dams that are built create an enormous amount of flooding in a very short time. This takes away working farm land and can also destroy our drainage ditches. If there happens to be a roadway or culvert through this area, these areas can be made impassible.

The control measures that I take as a landowner are not for sport, hunting or recreation.  They are purely to protect my land from the damage that these rodents do.  When beavers show up, they can do damage quickly, so I need to take care of them as efficiently as possible.  Adding more burdensome regulation seems like just the first step in a slippery slope to stopping my ability to protect my property.

There is an abundant population of beavers in Oregon, and there is no science at all to show anything different.  You can trust me, someone who lives and works in the areas where these beavers live, or you can put on your boots and come see for yourself on my farm, but I can assure you the population is nothing but healthy and thriving.  Which is why our ability to control the population in problem areas is a priority for us. 

I am urging a no vote on HB 2844. As a farmer and landowner I need to be able to control rodents (and beavers are scientifically a rodent) when they are doing damage to my farm and crops.  I need to be able to control them in a timely manner within the current regulations in Oregon.  There is no shortage of beavers, and no need for more protections.  Thank you for your time on this important issue.

Ice Storm 2021 Update

Last time I checked in we were in the middle of probably one of the worst storms Oregon has seen since the Columbus Day Story in 1962. I wasn’t around to experience that one, but after chatting with some folks who were, the thoughts are similar; 2021 has been worse. And when talking to lineman storm crews they say the same, “This has been some of the worst damage we have ever seen.”

That being said, we are all grateful to so many who turned on our power, who offered to help when we needed it, and also grateful to see the storm become a part of the past to talk about. But now the real work begins; time to clean up.

We finally got out and assessed the damage around our farm. We have a lot of clean up on the borders of our fields where trees and branches lay on top of our crops. That will take some time. Our first priority however was to get into our orchards and see how they fared. We didn’t get hit as hard as other farmers. Some have talked about tree losses upwards of 20% even as high as 50%. This is devastating to hear. We are not that bad in our orchards thank goodness.

In assessing the damage we have found that just about each tree has to be treated differently. Some we have cut down to the trunk and will loose some years of production, but will keep the tree in the ground.

Others we just had to trim up some branches. A few we cut the branch that split the tree and if it didn’t cut into the main truck too badly we kept for a year’s worth of production before we decide if we are going to take it out later.

And some just didn’t make it and got cut right then and there. Many of those we will replant this spring to get them up and going.

Driving around to each broken and ice pruned tree was a pretty depressing job. These are trees that we have taken care of for years. Some just started to produce a crop for us, and now we had to cut them down and set them back another 4 years. The cost of this event will be felt for a long time in the form of a huge labor bill to do clean up, lost production, and now caring for newly planted trees among our established orchards.

Many of these orchards had been gone through already this winter and been pruned, so the double amount of work to go back in prune, stack and push brush for the second time will take a lot of time and money. We try to be very efficient on our farm, and Mother Nature basically made sure that this year would not look like that on our orchard budgets.

Right now I’m just happy that we have power, the sun has been out for a few days, and we are moving along with clean up. The orchards are looking less tattered by the day, and it will be a good day when the “Ice Storm of 2021” is in our hindsight completely. Hope everyone is staying safe out there, and hopefully not far from getting their power turned back on soon!