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  • Last modified 18 days ago (Jan. 31, 2019)

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When reason takes a furlough

Forget, for a moment, whether our country is or isn’t being flooded by illegal immigrants. What’s flooded our headlines in recent weeks is how 800,000 federal workers were furloughed for 35 days.

Count the number of times the word “dire” was used to describe the situation. But like so many stories, there’s another side that seldom is heard.

Half the workers weren’t really furloughed. They still reported to work. They just weren’t paid. But even that’s only part of the story. They missed only one paycheck — on Jan. 11. And now that the shutdown has ended, they’ll get back pay for that. So unless they were living paycheck to paycheck and had maxed out their credit cards, they’re fine.

What’s important to note is that the 400,000 or so who stayed home throughout the shutdown also will be paid. Whether that constitutes a “dire” furlough or 35 days of extra paid vacation at taxpayer expense is in the eye of the beholder — just like whether an almost $6 billion wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is an essential or a folly.

Contrast that to what’s been happening for months at Hillsboro Community Hospital. Employees and vendors haven’t been paid — and probably never will be. Since fall, employees have been putting up with layoffs and canceled insurance coverage, yet rarely did we hear a peep of complaint from them.

Is that because someone told them not to talk? Is it because they’re stoic people who don’t complain as much as federal workers do? Or is it because they believed in the jobs they were trying to do and didn’t want to jeopardize the future of medical care in Hillsboro?

We may never know for sure, but the situation most assuredly was a lot closer to dire than whatever the federal workers faced.

For more than a month we’ve been inundated with stories about airport screenings, meat inspections, tax refunds, aid to families, and agricultural assistance applications potentially being impacted by the shutdown.

Yet a quiet but noticeable shift in how patients that county ambulances picked up in the Hillsboro area were being sent to hospitals in Newton and Marion instead of Hillsboro never garnered headlines because no one was willing to talk.

These days, public debate is all about how you frame an issue.

Last week we questioned whether it would be best for an already divided county commission to add a candidate whose first few words after being nominated were divisive and venomous, expressing and repeatedly using the word “hate.”

The response, from one of the candidate’s apparent supporters, published elsewhere on this page, was not to deny that the candidate appears to hold a negative grudge but rather to try to turn the tables and criticize us for pointing it out and somehow being an outsider.

Maybe it’s time to tell another part of that story, too — the personal part.

I’m not associated with this newspaper because I inherited it. Twenty years ago, I put up half the cash to buy it to prevent it from being sold to a distant chain that would slash reporting and fill its pages with out-of-town ads.

Despite a full-time job that requires me to spend eight months of the year elsewhere, I’ve devoted every vacation and free moment to this paper since then.

It’s not about money. I don’t get paid. In fact, I’ve never taken a cent out of the newspaper in dividends, salary, or even expenses.

Like it or hate it, what I’m doing is entirely about trying to give back to the city and county where I was born, grew up, and hopefully someday will retire.

Unlike some publications, our goal isn’t to create some newspaper empire that drives local consumers to distant businesses. It’s about making sure our local community is as vital as it can be.

And we often do that not by telling you what to think but by giving you as much information as we can, so you can make up your minds on your own — as informed members of society, not caught up in all the different ways various stories can be spun.

Time will tell whether this is a mission worthy of Don Quixote or is condemned to fail because we can’t long term live up to the accolades we won last year in being named the state’s best mid-size non-daily for both news and advertising.

It’s kind of like how I deal with my cat each day. We have a ritual that I must supply a fresh helping of ocean whitefish and tuna pate the first time I walk by her dish after the sun rises and again after the sun sets.

Mornings like this, when I pass by her dish before sunrise, leave her completely confused. Intelligent and scheming as they seem to be, cats like things simple.

Some people do, too. But our democracy depends on people thinking a bit more than cats do. As informed citizens, we have to consider the complexities of issues — the hidden other sides of the story that papers like ours try to reveal.

Succeed or fail, the future of democracy and our communities depends on it.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Jan. 31, 2019

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