We are used to bootstrapping it on the east side of the Cascades, as evidenced in our transformation from a mill town to one of the highest-employment-per capita regions in the state. It took all of us working together to make that happen.

As we enter the election season, it’s important to remember our lessons of collaboration while respecting each other’s wide-ranging views. But with all the vitriol that national politics are injecting into the media, voters need to understand our common ground when communicating with each other and our future elected leaders who are running for office.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
Recent research by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center , a nonprofit, nonpartisan polling organization highlights overlapping interests of Central Oregonians that will likely influence our votes this year. Last fall, the center worked with the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council on a study specific to Central Oregon. Their State-of-the-Region survey provided the intergovernmental council with data that showed we have much in common, what is important to us, and how we are diverse in our perceptions.

Topping the list in this research was concern for our natural environment. Central Oregon’s influx of new residents and visitors and a growing threat of wildfire and strain on water resources helped put our natural environment at the top, scoring 43% of responses. Next came how we value our community spirit, at 38% — something to note for any change agent or would-be elected official.

People here want to get involved, have their voices heard, and participate in the direction of the community. However, the survey also showed that a threat to eroding this community spirit is the growing divide in personal economic situations such as housing and cost of living impacts.

Across the political spectrum, Central Oregonians also have commonalities in their perceptions of how government serves us.

Most want the government to step in on wildfire protection, public safety and natural area preservation.

They also generally want the government to support workforce development, mental health, child care, housing affordability, water management and lowering the cost of living.

Current and would-be elected officials will hear this from voters in the coming months. Not surprisingly, 35% of respondents put personal independence as a high value. Central Oregonians may be interested in similar issues, but we want them to align with our individual values.

This research contributed to additional work OVBC conducted to identify the common and individual values of 3,000 Oregonian respondents. Their “typology report” defined eight distinct value categories for Oregonians. Those categories break many of our self-defined molds of who we are and our perceptions of important values.

It turns out that our opinions are much deeper than common definitions of liberals or conservatives. Oregonians have unexpected overlapping alliances in how we view the government’s role, how we should address poverty, whether we are better off than last year, our opinion of diversity and equal rights, how we feel about the environment and other personal values.

Although this research provides insight into how Oregonian values differ and align, incorporating those values into actual policymaking is complex and difficult. But it can work.

An example is the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project. Their work brings together “strange bedfellows” —including environmentalists, businesspeople, professional foresters, research scientists, loggers, private landowners, elected officials, tribal members, recreationists and government policymakers — to find ways to protect our forests.

Through ongoing work, they found common ground in the values that unite these diverse and often contentious groups — values rooted in the lifestyle and special places we all treasure in our local forests.

The solutions and strategies led to real progress in protecting and preserving our natural landscape and community.

As an advocate for business, the Bend Chamber is deeply interested in values and beliefs center’s research. Our key initiatives include workforce housing, affordable child care and workforce development. We see how Central Oregonians’ values could influence how we approach these issues, why they are important, and how they may affect legislation and policy.