Oregon 2nd District
The Cascade Mountains that wall off eastern Oregon from the rest of the state are a magnificent chain of once (and quite possibly still) active volcanic mountains that drain almost every drop of moisture out of the air blowing in from the Pacific Ocean. They separate green, wet, western Oregon from brown, parched, eastern Oregon. The eastern part has 70% of the state’s land, but only 477,000 of its 3.7 million people, most of whom still make their living off the land: beef and dairy cattle, timber and lumber, fish from the Columbia River, and wheat and sugar beets from the irrigated plains. The effect of the Cascades can be felt in the one place they are breached—by the Columbia River Gorge. There, surrounded by brown hills on both sides, funneled winds pound in steadily from the west, making the confluence of the Columbia and Hood rivers the best windsurfing site in the United States. The world’s largest wind farm opened here in 2002, featuring 400 windmills capable of generating electricity for 60,000 homes.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 2nd Congressional District of Oregon covers all of the state east of the Cascades and the southernmost valley between the Cascades and the Coast Range. Much of this land is forested and unpopulated: Harney County, with a land area larger than that of nine states, has just 7,000 residents. Population centers are miles apart. Pendleton is a genuine rodeo town amid the northeastern wheat fields. In the town of The Dalles, where the Columbia River Gorge begins, housing prices spiked after Internet giant Google purchased 30 acres of riverfront land for a 100-employee data center to be powered by cheap hydroelectricity. In the town of Bend, in the fastest-growing part of eastern Oregon, sawmills have closed but the wilderness and high desert plateau attract lots of outdoor activity, tourism and telecommuters. In the mid-2000s, “trophy ranches” were catching on and driving up land prices in Wallowa County as wealthy exurbanites bought up huge parcels for vacation retreats and retirement dream homes. Crook County has also seen an invasion of real estate developers.
Until it voted for George H.W. Bush for president over Bill Clinton in 1992, Crook County was a bellwether, the only county in the country to have voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election in the 20th century. Like the district as a whole, it has become more Republican, voting 68% for George W. Bush in 2004 and 61.5% for John McCain in 2008. In the district’s southwestern corner, lying west of the Cascades, is the 1,932-foot-deep Crater Lake, the deepest in the nation, created when the top blew off a huge volcano. The local economy is dominated by lumber and pear orchards around Klamath Falls, Ashland, Medford and Grants Pass.
Politically, the 2nd District has grown very suspicious of the federal government and very Republican. The cultural liberalism of Portland isn’t welcome here. This is part of the leave-us-alone Rocky Mountain Basin, not the hipster West Coast. The federal government owns three-quarters of the district’s land, with much of it fenced off from local use by various government decrees. Court decisions protecting the spotted owl eviscerated the logging industry here, and the cutoff of water in 2001 from the Klamath Basin to protect the endangered suckerfish threatened to destroy the livelihoods of 1,400 local farmers. The flow of water was restored, but logging remains endangered, with a lasting impact locally. In 2007, rural Jackson County was forced to shut down all of its 15 libraries after Congress ended “safety net” payments to communities hard hit by efforts to protect endangered species. The county has just one large sawmill left, compared with 91 in its heyday.