I’ve lost track of how many years I kept a running list of our letter writers for Hood River News’ opinion page — maybe 5? — but I’m glad to be able to continue the tradition in Columbia Gorge News. Letters to the editor are an important part of any newspaper, and we give credit here to those who expressed their opinions in this space. Letters to the editor give a sense of what is important in our communities. It turns out that, even though we live in different parts of the Gorge, we share many of the same objectives and concerns.
Columbia Gorge News ran 709 letters to the editor in 2020 — beginning with our first edition on April 8 (10 letters) and ending with our last edition on Dec. 30 (another 10 letters). In all, we had 464 writers.
Our most prolific writer was Steve Kaplan of Hood River with a total of 18. In second and third were Benjamin Sheppard of Hood River with 13 and Gary Fischer of The Dalles with eight. We also had three people write six: Deborah Ferrer of The Dalles, Mike Goodpaster of Goldendale, and Jacob Kaplan of Hood River.
Letters came from all corners of the Gorge: Hood River, The Dalles, White Salmon, Bingen, Stevenson, Snowden, Trout Lake, Wishram, Mt. Hood, Dallesport, Cook, Husum, Cascade Locks, Lyle, Skamania, Parkdale, Dufur, Odell, North Bonneville, Mosier, Goldendale, Maupin, Wasco, Wamic, Mill A, Tygh Valley, Glenwood and Centerville.
We kept track of how many letters were received each month: Our lowest was 31 total letters in April (our next lowest was November with 41). Our highest volume of letters came in October — 233 — with May (101) and September (100) our closest contenders.
Letter topics ranged from support for our new publication (nine — we also had three letters expressing disappointment in the change and/or content) to President Trump (10 in opposition to his COVID response, nine generally opposing his policies and handling of the presidency, and nine against a second term. He did get one letter of support regarding Chinese tariffs and two supporting his re-election).
In fact, politics was the most popular topic this year, with 279 letters endorsing candidates from Oregon and Washington races — not surprising in an election year (our Oct. 28 issue, the last one before the Nov. 3 general election, saw 34 letters alone).
We had 91 political letters in the “other” category on various topics, with “register and vote” garnering the most attention (10).
Black Lives Matter — both the movement that began in 2013 and the protests that followed George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis May 25 — was the topic of 49 letters to the editor. Twelve writers came out in support of the movement; another seven encouraged police reform and / or retraining officers. Four writers saw the movement and protests akin to religious extremism or mob mentality, and two said no reform or defunding is needed. Two letters criticized President Trump’s handling of protests as too violent, and one disapproved of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s not calling in the National Guard to control the crowds in Portland.
The COVID-19 pandemic was another frequent topic on the editorial page. We had 75 letters on the subject, with 19 of those urging others to wear masks. We had eight letters advising complying with to stay at home orders, six in favor of funding for businesses, worker protection or rent relief, five against Govs. Kate Brown and Jay Inslee’s lockdown responses, and four believing COVID was overblown.
We also had 84 letters in the “other” category, meaning they were standalones on various topics that ranged from asking readers to pack out their waste when climbing Mount Hood, allowing growth in The Dalles and the need for affordable housing in Hood River, and participating in the 2020 census.
There were many other topics covered — too many to catalog here — but we will be keeping track of topics again next year, as well as tabulate a list of those who write.
Please keep them coming.