By Talon Reporter Nat Needham
Part 2 of 2.
HRV Senior Nat Needham sat down with Paul Blackburn, mayor of Hood River, for an interview at Blackburn’s weekly Pie with the Mayor session, which is held on Wednesdays at varying locations.
N: What do you think of Hood River county schools? What about the students?
B: I am and will always be eternally grateful to all of the dedicated, patient, wonderful, gifted teachers and aides who educated my kids. I mean, my kids grew up here and it’s wonderful. And everyone else’s kids. One of the things I think is so positive about this town is everyone–not everyone–but over 90% go to public schools. In many towns, the families with resources go to private school and skim the cream off. And everybody else is left with the hogwash. I think a community with well racially and economically integrated schools is so healthy and positive.
N: It really says something that when you go to a football game and there’s someone you don’t recognize there, it’s really really weird. “Oh, that kid goes to Horizon.” “What? Why doesn’t he go to public school?” And my cousins, they live in Philly, all went to private school.
B: Another thing I try to tell my kids, which they didn’t hear because I’m Dad, is that there certainly are schools with more rigorous, demanding, high-achieving academic programs. When you go to college you’re going to encounter kids that didn’t take the advanced placement calculus test, but the advanced placement second year calculus test. There are other places where the kids are ahead of us, academically. Now on the other hand, they’re not kiting after school. So it is important to realize we are not the elite academic environment and that you’ll experience kids who have a few yards lead on you. But that’s fine. You have a lead in other ways.
N: Oregon is in the lowest ten states for testing scores and stuff. Is that a concern?
B: It’s a huge concern for our state. Our state doesn’t believe in taxes. That’s our problem: the schools are under resourced. We don’t pay enough taxes. There’s some very strict and complicated limits on the amount of tax we can pay, for all kinds of reasons including timber economy, and patriotic attitude, and public lands, that result in our schools not having enough money. Yeah, that’s a concern.
N: Right. Every year we hear about more budget cuts. We must be running on a dollar a day at this point.
B: And I was just at a meeting this morning talking about the next round of budget cuts.
N: “What can we cut the budget for this year? Printers?” And then the next year our printers break because we cut the budget for them and now we need new printers. Are we really saving money at this point?
N: And it’s really frustrating as a student to go through that for like thirteen years over and over again.
B: And to the volunteer leaders–you know, school board doesn’t pay any better than mayor does. Those people are up there making dreadfully difficult decisions with people hollering at them–for free! I mean, God bless them.
N: As a student, after a few years of that, it starts to feel like your education doesn’t matter to these people. You know, on a certain level, that of course it does. These people wouldn’t do these horribly hard, underpaid jobs without caring for these students, but…
B: I know. It’s very difficult. And honestly, the city’s revenue stream–there’s not gonna be a quiz, I just wanted you to see this–[he pulls out a pie chart] the city’s revenue stream is less vulnerable than the school’s. School revenue is all state. Here’s the city’s revenue. It’s a nice wide slice from property taxes, a nice wide slice from charges and services, a nice wide slice from TRT which is the hotel tax; we have a few different chunks. This pie chart on the schools is like 80% state money. So the state completely impacts the school’s budget. The city budget is flexible. That’s a bonus for me. Makes my job easier than the school board’s jobs.
N: Very important question: are you a feminist?
B: Oh, God, yes.
N: I’m glad. My friends are feminists, and so am I; they told me, “Make sure he gives a yes or no.”
B: I saw a t-shirt once: “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.” I mean, duh. …Now, my daughter Rosie is a sophomore, and she’s been a little bit in GSA. Do you recognize her there at all?
N: I don’t get much one-on-one time with the other kids, because I’m usually up there talking about what our next agenda is.
B:Well, thanks for providing leadership on that. That must be a pretty satisfying thing for you.
N: Yeah, it’s very fun, very rewarding. And there’s so many kids that support it without question. We hand out ribbons and stuff, we sell shirts, and they support it, no problem.
B: It’s an amazing generational thing. Old folks, in general, are so much more wound up about heterocentrism. The younger you are, it’s like, pfft, not even a thing!
N: Another thing is, my dad–I’m half white, half Mexican, and my dad is my white parent. And even he, whenever he sees, like if we go to a football game and he sees a white girl with a Mexican guy holding hands, he acts weird. And I’m like, “Dad, you’re married to a Mexican woman!”
B: That’s really interesting, so he’s a little tiny bit like a bigot.
N: Uh, not a tiny bit. But it’s just weird because it’s like he is in an interracial marriage and he still thinks those things are weird. And my uncles are like that too. It’s definitely a generational thing.
B: That’s a great perspective for you to have, from the inside, to realize “Whoa, even my family!” Imagine people who don’t have any connection to a different culture. They could easily get wound up about it.
N: And there are still certain kids, in the high school, who still hold on to that stuff. They get it from their parents, it’s learned. And then there are all-white students who are friends with those kids and when they figure out they have those beliefs, they’re shocked. And the hispanic or mixed race kids aren’t surprised at all. It’s still prevalent despite all the acceptance.
B: My kids moved here when they were four and zero. One time we were watching a TV show, Law & Order. And it was in Chicago. Some of the characters in this show were African American. After the episode ended, my kid, who was in grade school, goes, “Hey Dad, how come there were so many Mexican people in that show?” And I realized that for her, racial difference equals Mexican. How funny is that? No exposure. I went to a high school that was 50% African American. Much more normal for me. But for them, there’s white and there’s other and other is Mexican.
N: We had an African American teacher, but she retired a couple years ago–Ms. Charity. She’s friends with my mom and she’s also friends with our tenant–we have a little house we rent out. And it’s right next door to our house. Ms. Charity was visiting our tenant and my dad looked out and saw her. He said to me, “I didn’t know there were black people in Hood River.” I was like, “Dad, she’s a teacher at the school.”
B: Come on Dad.
N: And it’s very rare that we have African American students. So white and Hispanic students don’t get a lot of exposure to that culture.
B: So you’re a senior.
B: What’s next for you?
N: Two free years of community college, because I’m not ready to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a major I’m not sure about yet. I don’t know what careers I’m interested in or even what schools I want to go to.
B: So what are the deadlines? What are you thinking is the right thing to do?
N: Mt. Hood or CGCC. I’ll stay at home because my dad says I can stay rent free as long as I’m going to college. And I have a job at Andrew’s, I’ll probably keep that while I’m going to college. I’ll just take my time, figure out what I want to do. Travel in the summer. I definitely want to travel. I’ve already traveled a lot, especially for someone my age, but I want to travel more and for longer. All the trips I’ve been on have been a couple weeks here, a couple weeks there–it’s not enough time to explore and experience the culture.
B: Do you have any family you could visit in Mexico?
N: Yeah. Mexico is so diverse, geographically. Some people, when they think of Mexico, they think of beaches. When I think of Mexico I think of a cactus and a horse skeleton and then a house where my relatives live.
B: Well good luck with that, I’m sure it’s an exciting time.
N:Yeah. One last question: Do you think that our police force is different than most police forces?
B: I think about that a lot. One of the things I am very happy about is the very same week one of the leaders in Ferguson, Missouri, was resigning, one of our officers was receiving the Outstanding Officer Award–and he’s a Latino. It was a nice contrast. I think that our police are thoughtful and well-trained and are doing a great job of treating people justly and fairly. What the chief told me was, since they’ve had the body cams, complaints against his officers have gone down. Now, what does that mean? Does that mean the people who were making complaints were just making it up and realized that they couldn’t get away with lying on camera? Or was it that the police realized that they better behave because it’s on camera? We don’t know. But I realize I am one phone call away from some dreadful situation. Last summer, somebody got shot in Hood River, but not by the police, by a civilian. And then the police apprehended him and didn’t shoot anybody, which was great. I think we have great police here and I have been so pleased to see the chief and the sheriff out and about at events, at Latino events, making themselves available and taking community access very seriously.
We finish up our conversation and take a selfie (featured in the thumbnail). Pie with the Mayor is held on Wednesdays and anyone can come. Chat with the mayor, address your concerns, and voice your opinion over a slice of pie!
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