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Fear and Loathing at the Capitol, Part 2

(Fear and Loathing . . . )

I then presented scientific studies demonstrating the detriments milk has on many people’s health. I was sharing information from a study done on Bantu women and their low incidence of osteoporosis in spite of their low intake of calcium when Senator Dwyer interrupted me. He asked what the Bantu women of Africa had to do with the people of Oregon. He answered his own question by saying it probably had to do with genetic differences. While I feel his question was legitimate, it was his tone of cruel and blatant condescendence that spoke volumes. I felt like he wanted to make me look stupid. But I went on and answered his question anyway in my shaky voice.

When I started sharing another scientific case against osteoporosis, Senator Dwyer once again interrupted me. This time I heard anger in his voice when he asked me if I was going to blame milk for everything. I was able to say no, I knew other things contributed to osteoporosis such as a high protein diet (which milk contributes to), smoking, lack of exercise, etc., but the subject of the hearing was milk, and I wanted to stay focused on that.

I had more information to share. However, between Senator Dwyer’s outright hostility and other senators rolling their eyes and smirking, I felt so unwelcome that I quit testifying.

The open hearing was closed by Chairman Bob Kintigh. He immediately called for the work session on SJR 8 to begin. A work session is a time when the Committee is supposed to review all information heard during the public hearing, read and review any written testimony, which I had done, and discuss open-mindedly the pros and cons before voting. Or so it’s supposed to be.

Instead they took about five minutes to talk about how they felt about milk becoming a state beverage. I heard things like milk is the purest food, and memories of growing up on farms and milking cows. Open-mindedness was not on the agenda that day, so they did a milk toast and voted. Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes. One senator asked the children if they’d thought about working on making milk a national beverage which triggered thumbs up between adults. The meeting was closed.

I was about to leave when Senator Ferrioli came up and shook my hand. He said he was glad I’d testified because it was important for the children to know that, no matter what you believe, there will be opposing views. This seemed too little too late.

That night I wrote a letter and e-mailed it to all seven committee members. I thanked Senator Ferrioli for the kindness he showed toward me and then expressed my feelings about what happened that day.

In a nutshell I’ll tell you what I told them. I am angry and appalled at the example these seven senators set for the Tillamook school children. The children had done a wonderful job of researching, organizing and pursuing this bill. It is an injustice that a healthy real-life experience ended in this sham of a public hearing that morning by seven senators who claim to represent the people. I feel angry about the real lesson the children learned that day—not only do you not have to listen to all sides of an issue, but you can treat those with opposing views disrespectfully.

Only Senator Ferrioli responded to my letter. He called me the next morning. I was at work, but a friend who was staying with me answered the phone and talked to Senator Ferrioli. He told my friend that he’d read the material I submitted. For that I’m happy. He also expressed regret that I’d been treated so poorly during the public hearing and wished he could have done something about it, but he was a new senator. I never heard from him again, even though I returned his call. He was unwilling to put his comments in writing. I feel angry that he knew I was being treated poorly in that senate committee and yet chose to be silent.

In light of all this, I have a question. Why did the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, consisting of Senators Bob Kintigh, Bill Fisher, Bill Dwyer, Gary George, Veral Tarno, Ted Ferrioli, and Thomas Wilde, choose to have a public hearing for SJR 8 in the first place?

If they already knew they were going to pass this bill, and were holding a public hearing simply for the benefit of the school children, then they should all be held accountable for a great injustice to the people of this state. Not only did they waste taxpayers money, they lied.

I’ll admit, I’m an idealist. Being on the receiving end of narrow-minded contempt stings me. The bullying I received during the open public hearing for SJR 8 on February 12, 1997 makes me question the integrity of our legislative body. I don’t believe this is an isolated incident.

I want to know why a committee has an open hearing if they are not willing to listen to all sides of an issue. How can they endorse legislation before they have listened to the pros and cons? Why can’t seven senators sit still and give their full attention to the people they represent in a time that is specifically and clearly designated for that purpose? Why can’t committee members treat taxpaying citizens who testify with respect? I want to know why our senators and representa-tives seem to forget they are the elected servants of the people.

Fundamentally, I believe it is the Senate and House of Representative committees’ responsibility to make testifying a safe experience. I also believe, as our elected officials, it is their job to suspend their own belief systems as much as possible and listen. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No!

I urge each and every voting citizen to attend a public hearing of the committee that the senator or representative you voted for sits on before you vote again.

As a vegan, Susan Clow has acquired extensive nutritional information in her pursuit of health. She is a tax payer, voter, and a working private citizen living with her family in Salem, Oregon.

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