It's no secret why newspaper journalists spend so much time working on year-end retrospective stories: These stories fill space in their publications during the last week of the year, when news can be hard to find.
With that said, though, it can be interesting to take a deeper look at 2018's biggest Oregon news stories — and how, in many cases, those stories are new chapters of trends that long have been at play in the state and, for that matter, across the western United States.
Let's take, for our starting point today, the list of top Oregon stories for 2018 from The Associated Press.
Now, you can quibble with the list that AP's writers and editors compiled (for example, the No. 2 and No. 9 stories on the list are different developments in the same story), but many of the stories tie in nicely to state and regional trends that in some cases have stretched back now for more than a century.
Let's start with those two related stories, No. 2 (President Donald Trump's pardon of ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond) and No. 9 (the acquittal of FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita, charged with making false statements and obstruction of justice regarding his actions at the shooting that killed Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, one of the leaders of the January 2016 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge).
The Hammonds were convicted of intentionally setting fires on public land. After a judge refused to give the men the mandatory minimum sentences, the government appealed, resulting in longer sentences for both. The Hammonds reported to jail to serve out the remainder of their terms, an event that sparked protests from Ammon Bundy and others and led to the refuge takeover.
Finicum died about three weeks after the start of the takeover at a roadblock authorities set up outside the refuge.
Both of these stories are new chapters in a long-running saga in the West: the debate over federally owned lands. That story goes back more than a century and isn't nearly finished yet.
You could make a case that the No. 4 story, the wildfires in southern Oregon, also are related to the federal land issue, in that these fires often are burning on national forests that haven't been properly maintained for generations and are clogged with fuel. Will congressional action to safeguard money for forest maintenance and cooperative efforts to allow thinning and controlled burns begin to make a difference this year? We'll see.
The AP's No. 1 story, the re-election of Gov. Kate Brown, continues a trend in Oregon politics that's been at play now for at least a generation: The state's emergence as a solidly blue state. Brown bested a well-funded and prepared GOP candidate, Knute Buehler, as the Democrats also claimed narrow supermajorities in the Legislature. Those supermajorities, if Democratic leaders keep them in line, will allow Democrats to raise taxes without a Republican vote. How Brown chooses to spend her political capital and how the legislative session develops surely will be among the top state stories of 2019.
The AP's No. 10 story, the January vote to impose a tax on hospitals and health insurers to help temporarily pay for the state's Medicaid expansion, also is linked to the state's political climate: To a large extent, the state's continuing budget deficit is because of that Medicaid expansion. (It was surprising that the continuing financial woes of the state Public Employees Retirement System didn't make the AP list. That unfunded liability didn't make much news during the year; it just grew larger.)
Daily journalism, by its nature, sometimes is in too much of a hurry to place these stories in a broader context. But it's important to take the time every so often to see how many of these stories, as compelling as they are on their own terms, essentially are new wrinkles in broader sagas. (mm)