U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, recently considered a potential candidate for President of the United States, came to Wallowa County on April 25, fulfilling his longstanding tradition of visiting each Oregon county every year.
A crowded house greeted him as he launched into both global and domestic concerns facing our nation. We applaud the senator’s record of making it out to this corner of heaven every year. There’s a certain admirability when a left-leaning senator steps outside of his or her political comfort zone to ensure each of his or her constituents is heard.
But to this editorial board something much more exciting, and more important happened that morning. Something that gives us hope and also earns a tip of the hat from us at the Chieftain to Jason Crenshaw of Joseph Charter School.
Crenshaw brought his senior government class to come and engage Sen. Merkley — and they did so with a level of maturity that I could only characterize as becoming of the expectations we have for Wallowa County’s young people.
In the midst of what was likely a genuine but probably rehearsed political speech, a beacon of hope was shinning on the horizon: the notion that the young people of this county are watching. They’re learning; and impressively, they won’t back down nearly as easy as perhaps we once thought.
Renee Seal, a senior at JCS and aspiring student of history and political science, approached the microphone for her question. The confidence, eloquence and ability to articulate not some sophomoric question, but perhaps the best question of the day can only be described as sensational.
Aptly pointing out that the young people of this country rely heavily on the judgments of politicians like Sen. Merkley to safeguard their future, Seal mentioned just a few concerning topics, including climate change, student loans, and increases in college tuition.
Beyond asking specifically what politicians like Sen. Merkley have planned to safeguard the interests of younger generations, she also showed impressive insights into the more convoluted realities of politics.
For example, Seal spoke of both the benefits and risks of long-term politicians. Often voters of all ages neglect the importance of a long-standing representative and all the political capital that comes with it when helping our local districts.
As for Crenshaw: “I’m proud of the kids for doing that.”
He elaborated about how soon these young people will have a say. “They are going to need to learn and exercise both the habits and judgement demanded of our voting age population.”
“We need to keep doing things like yesterday, it will make it more tangible and less abstract,” Crenshaw suggested. “Life experience makes it tangible.”
Whether we like it or not, our young people are going to be 18 sooner than later. For Crenshaw, voting is a responsibility, but there is also a responsibility to be informed to vote.
For our young folks, today’s opportunities and tomorrow’s fears are too often quashed by professional spin masters with flashy smiles and genuine eyes.