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Don't Shoot the MessengerA year ago, Caitlin Jenner was still Bruce, and Donald Trump was a reality TV show shtick, not a possible reality for America—and both of those individual changes mark significant changes over the past year. Gender politics have evolved quickly over the past two years with same-sex marriage receiving its blessings from the Supreme Court and transgender persons moving into wide-reaching mainstream acceptance. Over the same period of time, though, and perhaps in a somewhat diametric counterbalance, conservative politics found their spokesperson—or, perhaps, it is that Trump served last year more as an indicator for how surprisingly broad-base arch-conservative politics are in modern America.

Yes, 2016 was marked by politics that found more in their differences than in common ground. Sadly, the trend of mass shootings only ticked upwards in 2015, less than three years after 20 children and six adults were shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School and federal politicians declared an outright effort to stem school shootings. In spite of tighter gun restrictions, in October, one professor and eight students were shot at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, and public opinion continued to entrench in opposing viewpoints about whether a potential solution is more gun control or not.

And, it hardly seems as if 2016 will bring differing viewpoints any closer: The year began with President Barack Obama’s first order of business setting in motion an Executive Order to tighten background checks and narrow available weapons, an honorable act for those hoping to curb gun violence, but also an act that will kick the hornet’s nest as it bypasses a Republican-controlled U.S. Congress.

Yes, 2015 was a divisive year—and it was really only setting the table for 2016.

But perhaps there are signs that we all can just get along. Yes? Maybe? Why not?

Taking one of the most discussed topics in regional politics—the legalization of marijuana—perhaps shows there is an opportunity for mature discussions about finding common ground. Medford City Council has not been a big proponent for legal weed with the large majority expressing opposition; but those viewpoints don’t quite reflect the more even split in the voting public as the state-wide voter initiative approving the legal sales of recreational marijuana had passed only by the slimmest of margins in that city. This past autumn, Medford City Council was poised to ban the outdoor growing of recreational marijuana within city limits, but after dozens of residents spoke out against the ban, city council relented its viewpoints and offered a compromise: How about letting city residents decide?

Isn’t that at least one sign that 2016 could move towards more common ground? (Also, the upcoming public referendum will be telling about how—and if—attitudes towards marijuana have shifted in the year since weed became legal in Oregon.)

Yes, national politics in 2015 became more, not less, divisive and the odds-on bet would be that 2016 will be even worse. However, Oregon does not need to—and often doesn’t—follow national trends. Take, for example, on-the-rise Republican politician Dr. Knute Buehler (who represents Bend at the Oregon House) who last session broke with traditional Republican positions to champion on-demand birth control, or the number of other laws voted into place in 2015 and taking effect in 2016 that are chucking out entrenched attitudes for sensible solutions, like Oregonians may now pump their own gas in rural counties between 6 pm and 6 am, and renewing a driver’s license will automatically register a resident as a voter, and, most keenly, employers will no longer be allowed to ask applicants if they have been convicted for a crime, allowing persons who have served their time the ability to move forward with their lives.

Yes, if 2015 is any indication, 2016 may get ugly with national politics, but it looks pretty reasonable in Oregon.


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