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Welsome back, Mr. Westlund

By Tony Ahern
   Publisher
   It's good to have Rep. Ben Westlund back slugging away in Salem.
   The popular Central Oregonian -- Jefferson County's representative until redistricting pushed him southward -- recently underwent lung cancer surgery. On Monday, he returned to give a heartfelt speech thanking his cohorts for all the support given during his time of trial.
   Then, before anyone could dab a tear or curl back a smile, Westlund reminded the House of Representatives that it was the health of the state everyone should be concerned with. Oregon is on life support, he said, and it wasn't up to surgeons to save the state, it was up to them: the Oregon Legislature.
   Westlund called for this colleagues to overhaul the state tax system, provide schools and public health with adequate funding, and to re-evaluate regulations impacting Oregon businesses. He admonished the unnamed many for basing decisions (or not making them) on politics, for focusing on winning elections instead of on trying to resuscitate this state.
   Though a loyal Republican, Westlund has always had the reputation as able to work with the opposing party. It was Democrats who lauded his speech Monday while Republicans were a little less enthusiastic. Maybe the Republicans were hoping he would use the pulpit to lambaste the other side. Westlund knows enough to realize that our present trouble is deeper than the ever-present catfight between Democrats and Republicans. Solving it will take vision and political courage.
   Westlund became one of the most effective legislators of his era not by standing on one side of the political fence and lobbing bombs over it. He's reached this height of the political spectrum by being a consensus builder, open-minded regarding solutions, working within the simple goal of improving our lives and our governmental policies. While many politicians spend most of their time working to remain politicians, Westlund hasn't feared diving into the mud, getting dirty, and hammering out policy. In his speech Monday, Westlund implored others to adopt that style, to remember that their job is to established the most correct policy, not to play politics.
   "... we come from diverse districts that many times have conflicting interests, but that's the genius and the challenge of representative democracy is to find the best public policy and to forge the consensus out of that inherent conflict," said Westlund.
   Ben, you served Jefferson County with plenty of energy and effectiveness. It may sound simple, but when you were our state representative, people knew who our state rep was. That's largely not the case anymore. Good luck on your personal recovery, Ben, and in inspiring our state's resuscitation as well.
   xxxxx
   The Homestead Act and the talk of railroads helped make the dawn of the 1900s the first boom time in Central Oregon's history. Towns sprang up, and as more and more folks decided hacking out a living through the rock and sagebrush wasn't for them, these towns grew.
   As soon as there were businesses to buy advertising, newspapers magically arrived. In March, 1903, Max Lueddemann, who had earlier started the Antelope Herald, opened The Bend Bulletin. About a year later, a lawyer from The Dalles, Timothy Brownhill, hoisted a tent in the late August heat in the dusty town to the north to publish the first Madras Pioneer.
   The Bulletin celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. The Pioneer will turn 100 next year. Reflecting on those founding anniversaries brings back an exciting time for Central Oregon, the time of so much birth for the area: communities forged, the railroad, new counties, irrigation projects and developing economies.
   During those early years, Bend and Madras awaited the railroads together, and joined in the effort to split from Crook County a few years later, to create Jefferson and Deschutes. Certainly the towns have evolved differently. Bend has gone from a small timber town to one of the nation's most alluring small cities. Though teased by irrigation for decades, Jefferson County nearly dried off the map in the 1930s, becoming the least populated in the state. But irrigation did finally arrive, farming thrived, the Pelton project infused population, and by the end of the 20th century Jefferson County was among the fastest-growing in the state.
   As the Pioneer turns 99 this August and looks forward to 2004, we congratulate The Bulletin on its 100th anniversary, and on its illustrious history.