Public Service, from Paisley to Portland

From Paisley to Portland, last week reminded me how many different ways public service plays out at home in Oregon.

After having the honor to speak in southern Oregon at Memorial Day ceremonies in Eagle Point and Central Point, I awoke the next morning back home in Portland ready for jury duty in Multnomah County.

I did not get called this time to serve on a jury. But talking with Multnomah County residents in the downtown Portland courthouse about this shared civic duty makes one realize how essential that public service of jury participation is to the function of justice in our court system.

Simply put, our judicial system depends on all of us to answer the call so that when warranted, cases can be heard by a jury of peers — made up of our fellow citizens.

Another key part of public service is coming together as Oregonians to discuss issues and seek solutions, not standoffs. As Oregon’s senator, I have sought to provide public forums with town hall meetings statewide where such discussions can occur in a civil and productive setting I like to call the “Oregon Way.”

I hold at least one of these open-to-all town halls in each of Oregon’s 36 counties each year. And last week, one of those meetings was my annual Lake County town hall in the tiny community of Paisley.

Paisley has a population of about 241 people — or roughly the same number of people who were in the Multnomah County jury room with me days before.

The Lake County students and adults who attended the Paisley town hall came out in the true spirit of the Founding Fathers who expected any person to have the opportunity to ask any question of an elected official in public.

The Founding Fathers were right: Throwing open the doors of government for town halls for these conversations is a must in our democracy. And I have done so 899 times, including recent town halls in slightly larger rural communities such as Joseph and Prineville.

One question that comes up often at these town halls is what difference any one person can have when they speak up at a town hall or other public gathering.

My answer is those voices add up to provide a public service I like to call “people power.” Let me be specific about how that people power works as a public service.

In the last five years at town halls, I heard from frustrated Oregonians about wildfires threatening their homes and businesses — in large part because fire prevention work was being shortchanged by federal agencies “borrowing” from the prevention fund to fight big blazes.

In response, I worked with Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo on legislation to halt that short-sighted practice of “fire borrowing.” The legislation will not end wildfires, but it will help the federal government be a smarter partner for Oregon and the West with wildfires.

At the Paisley town hall I heard about the importance of reliable broadband to quality rural health care by using telemedicine to allow rural providers to share key information like imaging and X-rays with counterparts in larger medical institutions.

And back in Portland at week’s end, I held a meeting with young people aching to bring common-sense solutions to the national epidemic of gun violence.

Their fresh voices bring new solutions to old debates. And I am tremendously encouraged about the future of public service with these students and so many others all over the state ready, willing and able to serve from Paisley to Portland and all points in between.