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Posts published in May 2022

The search

rainey

In our recent long distance move back to the bosom of Oregon’s upper Willamette Valley, we’ve had some very unusual experiences.

I’m going to describe a few in upcoming columns. Let’s start with the search for a new church “home.”

Week one. We chose a local, traditional First Presbyterian Church. Brick exterior. Tall steeple. What seemed like a warm and welcoming sanctuary. Young minister.

When it came time for scripture reading, the Pastor reached under the Communion table and pulled out a small, long, narrow black stool. He placed it in the Chancel area with the end toward the congregation. Then sat astride it - as though it were a saddle - and read from the Good Book.

After his very brief sermon, he moved the “saddle” to one side and was joined by the Youth Minister. The “sermon” time turned into a back-and-forth with the congregation in a colloquy about “orientation, disorientation and new orientation.” We got lost. And left confused,

Next, we tried the First Christian Church. Traditional looking building. We went to the front door about 10 minutes before the service was supposed to start. The door was locked. We saw a few cars in the back so we walked around to an open door to a small classroom. Inside were 16 people. Seems the main sanctuary had been shuttered for some time because the size of the “flock” had dwindled to just these few.

It was Easter Sunday. The sermon? A lengthy - and disorganized - description of the Minister’s visit to a nearby federal prison in the company of a Catholic Bishop. Easter? Not a mention of Christ’s resurrection. Nothing about what it meant. Not a word!

Our third visit was to a First Presbyterian Church in another small community. Traditional looking sanctuary with a sizeable building attached for classrooms, offices and the like.

The service - the Sunday after Easter - was also traditional First Prez. At the conclusion of “joys and concerns” from the congregation,, the Pastor asked if there were any comments or questions. Being someone who always has a question/comment, I spoke up.

I remarked that, sitting in a church for the entire service, surrounded by self-proclaimed Christians, I was surprised there had not been one word about the genocide going on in Ukraine. No words of sympathy or an offered prayer for an end to the Russian attacks. No details of any national or international Presbyterian aid. Not one word.

The Pastor quickly responded with an off-the-cuff 30-second prayer addressing my concern, then a brief benediction and we adjourned.

Barb and I left our seats and were walking up the aisle when a woman climbed up on a pew behind us and grabbed my arm

“Why weren’t you here last Sunday when we talked about Ukraine?” she asked in a rather demanding voice.

Totally off-guard, I said we were visiting another church.

“What do you think about the wars in Africa,”she asked? “What about them?” Still holding my sleeve.

Trying to pull my arm free, I muttered something about which war was she talking about.

Her next words: “That tells me you only care about skin color.” And she was gone. Knowing absolutely nothing about me, she branded me a racist right there in the Lord’s presence.

It’s been a week since that incident. Committed to our search, we’ll be visiting another congregation this Sunday.

The experience of being branded a racist by an absolute stranger - calling herself a “Christian” - will stay in my head for some time to come. As those thoughts linger, I’m trying to learn something positive from the unwarranted intrusion. Something that could make me a better person - a better Christian. I even offered a prayer for the accuser.

Our seeking a new church “home” will continue. We have several small communities to visit. We have no concept of what that “home” will be. We have no description of what it might look like. Feel like.

But, we’ll know.
 

The state’s family lawyer

jones

The six of us served as Idaho Attorney General from 1971 to 2003, a total of 32 years. It is an important State office, but Idahoans are often in the dark as to what the Attorney General is supposed to do. Although the AG runs on a partisan ticket, voters may not know that his official functions are mostly legal in nature. He provides legal advice to government officials so that they can act within the law. In actuality, the AG is much like a family lawyer to the State.

We expect the lawyers we hire for our personal or business affairs to give us honest, accurate advice about the law to keep us out of trouble–to tell us what the law is, rather than what we wish it was. It is often said that lawyers are not doing their job if they don’t sometimes warn clients against doing what they want to do.

Like a family lawyer, a competent AG tells State officials what they need to do to keep the government out of legal trouble. The AG’s oath of office requires that he give legal advice and assistance that complies with the U.S. and Idaho Constitutions. Keeping the government on firm legal footing is not headline-grabbing but it is essential for the protection of both the government and the citizenry.

What does often make the news are AG opinions on hot-button issues. The AG is required by statute to provide legal opinions to other State officials upon their request. The opinions must be based on the law as it is at the time and they must be accurate. Otherwise, the State could face substantial liability. During the legislative session, it is not unusual for the AG to be asked about abortion and any number of similar issues.

We have all been asked for legal opinions that require us to provide accurate legal opinions that may be contrary to our own strongly-held beliefs. The law requires that we put our personal beliefs aside when doing this work. Giving a green light to legislation with serious constitutional problems is a violation of our duty and does not benefit anyone. The courts will strike it down and require the State to pay the attorney fees of the person or group challenging the law. We’ve seen that happen all too often.

A case in point is Senate Bill 1309, the abortion bill currently being challenged in the Idaho Supreme Court. The AG issued an opinion pointing out constitutional problems with the bill even though he is personally pro-life. He was duty-bound to put his personal views aside to do his job. The AG does not tell legislators what they may or may not do. He only tells them what the law is.

The AG serves as a member of the State Land Board and as the Board’s legal advisor. The Board is required by the Idaho Constitution to get the maximum long-term return from State lands for the benefit of our public schools. If the Board is inclined to give favorable rates to people using those lands for grazing or vacation homes, the AG is required to advise against it. People’s feathers may be ruffled but it is the AG’s job.

The AG has a raft of other important duties. He is the State’s chief legal officer. He defends all appeals by convicted criminals. He protects the public from con artists. He litigates in court against federal overreach. He protects Idaho’s water. Above all, the AG is the person most responsible in the State for upholding the rule of law, regardless of whether he or she may object to some of those laws.

The AG can advocate for changes in the law through legislative action or in federal or State court proceedings but must always observe the law as it currently exists. As a nation of laws, we should expect no less from the State’s family lawyer.

Tony Park, Idaho Attorney General (1971-1975).
Wayne Kidwell, Idaho Attorney General (1975-1979).
Dave Leroy, Idaho Attorney General (1979-1983).
Jim Jones, Idaho Attorney General (1983-1991).
Larry Echo Hawk, Idaho Attorney General (1991-1995).
Al Lance, Idaho Attorney General (1995-2003).
 

Not what you think

meador

When I first saw the term “white privilege” being used commonly in discussions on race, I assumed it meant I had it easier than people of color simply because I am white. I assumed it was a broad condemnation of whiteness or even an accusation of white people taking something that doesn’t belong to them.

I was wrong.

If you get mad every time someone mentions white privilege, read on. You just might see white privilege through new eyes.

White privilege has an actual definition and it’s not what many people think. If you know me or if you read my regular columns or essays, you might be familiar with how I came to understand one of the most divisive terms in the current vernacular.

I am going to repeat a number of incidents I have personally witnessed. I am going to contrast them with what people of color experience — people of color close to me. The final example is a deeply personal one. At the end of this column, I will give the actual definition of white privilege.

White privilege starts very small. As I cross a crosswalk in front of an older white woman in a Lexus, I get six-or-so paces beyond her car when I hear her hit her loud electric door locks. Turning, I see a Black man crossing a dozen paces behind me. That is white privilege.

I can shop at Nordstrom, free to wander without scrutiny. But the store security staff closely watches the Black man who came in right after me. That is white privilege.

White privilege is another department store offering a wide variety of makeup colors for white women but few for women of color. White privilege is a white woman entering a boutique with a large shoulder bag and being allowed to browse at her leisure while the Black woman behind her is asked to surrender her bag at the counter before she can shop.

I can enjoy excellent service at my favorite bistro while the Black couple two tables over experience mediocre service because the waiter incorrectly assumes they’re lousy tippers. That is white privilege.

White privilege is when a fellow resident of my secure apartment building holds the lobby door open for me even though he doesn’t know me but then quickly pulls the door shut behind me because a Black man is heading in next.

White privilege is me relaxing poolside at a resort, unmolested by hotel staff while the Black family two rooms down is repeatedly asked for their pool pass, their parking permit or to show their room key to prove they are legitimate guests.

White privilege is me ordering breakfast at a diner, then settling the bill when I’m finished while the Black party seated across the dining room is asked to pay in advance because the white manager thinks they look “suspicious.”

White privilege is me applying for a loan to buy a house and getting approved, even without stellar credit when a Black family of similar means is denied repeatedly. White privilege is a Black home appraised well below its market value but increased by a full third when the bank orders a second appraisal before which the homeowners “whitewash” or remove all objects indicating the occupants are Black.

White privilege is me able to win a seat in our state legislature and freely canvass neighborhoods in my constituency while the Black woman elected in the next district has the police called on her repeatedly as she hands out reelection campaign leaflets in her district neighborhoods.

White privilege is me carelessly fumbling with my documents when a police officer stops me for a minor traffic violation while the Black man the cop stopped earlier had to very carefully maintain awareness of where he slowly moved his hands, asking permission each time he did so, trying not to appear to be reaching for a weapon. White privilege is the same cop allowing me to remain in my car while he writes me up when the Black motorist would have a much higher chance of being handcuffed — emasculated, humiliated — detained and left to sit on the curb before being released and handed his ticket.

Remember when I said I had a deeply personal example?

White privilege is me getting busted on federal cocaine charges in the early 1990s and enjoying a complicated adjudication that included six months in a cushy federal halfway house instead of prison time when a Black man would likely still be serving his prison sentence for the same crime, even as I type these words.

That, my friends, is white privilege.

White privilege is generally defined as societal privilege benefiting white people over non-white people in some societies, particularly when they are otherwise subject to the same social, political or economic circumstances.

White privilege has nothing to do with how difficult a white kid’s childhood was or the difficulties a white adult is experiencing. White privilege is not related to abuse, poverty, sickness or persecution.

White privilege manifests itself in those little details you never thought about because you didn’t have to — details Black people face constantly. The term itself is unfortunate because, to many white ears, white privilege sounds pejorative if we don’t understand its true meaning.

We shouldn’t be arguing over white privilege.

White privilege isn’t anything to be ashamed of — we didn’t ask for it. White privilege isn’t something we can give up. But to understand our friends of color, we must be aware of it. White privilege makes our lives easier in ways we very often do not consider.

Next time someone brings up white privilege, don’t react defensively. Try to see everyday, ordinary life through the eyes of a person of color — they are reminded of their skin color many times, every day.

We are not. That is white privilege.

Matthew Meador is a former food and wine writer, senior editor and a rare moderate Republican who now writes political commentary. Previously, Matt was an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to use during election seasons. Matt has served in various capacities on political campaigns, for pollsters and for elected officials. Contact him at matthewmeador.com.

Photograph © Octagon via Wiki, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported, GNU Free Documentation License
 

The coming abortion battle

stapiluslogo2

If you’re wondering what political issues aren’t top of mind for most Oregonians but may get there in coming months, abortion should rise to attention.

It’s worth considering now, ahead of the upcoming primary election, for this reason:

Sometime in the next few months, likely in or near June, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization which is widely expected either to overturn the long-standing Roe v. Wade ruling or wipe out most of its effect, with the result of allowing states, as many have started to try to do already, to effectively outlaw abortion. Neighboring Idaho is one of the states moving in that direction.

All of that is driving abortion-related activity from red states to the blue. The Boise-based Planned Parenthood organization in Idaho has leased office space across the Snake River in Ontario, evidently intending to provide services there for Idahoans who will no longer be able to get them in their home state. The pressure in Oregon will grow for providing those services - maybe especially in parts of the state where the pro-choice view isn’t popular.

Oregon has, over the last couple of decades, moved firmly in the pro-choice direction. The legislature, with gubernatorial support, has supported the right to abortion with increasing specificity, especially in a 2017 law (the Reproductive Health Equity Act) which even effectively makes many abortions free of financial cost to the patient.

Whether that’s the end of the story in Oregon may depend on how the elections go. If either of the major Democratic nominees, Tina Kotek or Tobias Read, win in November, they would be unlikely to change Oregon’s law or policies in that area, other than maybe to adjust existing principles to new conditions on the ground. Kotek was endorsed by the Planned Parenthood PAC of Oregon, which said she is someone “who will champion bold policies that expand access to reproductive health care for Oregonians and anyone who might be forced to travel to our state for care.” Read’s views appear to be similar to Kotek’s.

Independent candidate Betsy Johnson seems to be in the same territory. She remarked recently that “I am pro-choice and Oregon will remain a pro-choice state when I am governor.”

The Republican candidates are a far more complicated story.

Asked about support for an Oregon counterpart to the fetal “heartbeat” laws, which involve private rights of action (critics call it bounty hunting) passed in Texas and Idaho, Republican candidate Christine Drazan said that, “I’ve never shied away from my pro-life values, but a private right of action is a dangerous precedent that could just as easily be used to curtail constitutional rights that conservatives value.”

That stand on the heartbeat law may make her an outlier among the Republican contenders. Most have not explicitly gone public on the subject, but there are some data points to work with.

Oregon’s oldest (formed in 1970, before Rose v. Wade) and largest pro-life group, Oregon Right to Life, has endorsed at least four Republican candidates: Drazan, Bob Tiernan, Bridget Barton, and Bud Pierce. Since the group relies on candidates to spread the word of endorsements, there could be others who haven’t remarked about it directly.

One candidate non-endorsee who seems displeased about it is Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam, who seems to have gone the furthest among the Republican candidates in declaring he would act broadly against abortion if elected. “Oregon is a taxpayer-funded abortion tourist destination,” he said. “Politicians are more concerned with propping up the abortion industry than actually helping women and children. It’s time we recognize the value of the unborn by protecting their right to life in our laws. As governor, I would propose and support any common sense limits on abortion that are allowed by current Supreme Court decisions.”

Probably, however, any of the Republican candidates if elected in November would face enormous pressure from their base to do whatever he or she could to push back against Oregon’s state legislative policy.

And how much could a governor do?

A governor can’t unilaterally change the law, and the chances of the Oregon legislature changing enough in this election to do that are nil. But a governor can make a difference.

Bear in mind that Texas Governor Greg Abbott didn’t need or ask for legislative backing recently to block for searches of traffic from Mexico: He did it administratively. In Oregon, Governor Kate Brown used extensive emergency powers to impose restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic. What powers might a Republican governor attempt to use to limit, or hamstring, abortion in Oregon?

We don’t really know for sure. But if one of the Republicans does prevail in November, we may find out.

This column originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.