Visiting Oregon’s iconic capital is a necessary part of a commissioners job, although perhaps not my favorite outing. Actually, once you get to Salem it can be almost as addictive as it is for the hundreds of people who camp out in the granite halls for weeks or months on end. There is a sort of fever that surrounds all this activity with legislators and lobbyists buzzing up and down the halls talking breathlessly about whatever issue or issues are on the agenda for the day.
To be honest, I have always thought of the legislative session as something akin to an NBA basketball game – it’s mostly decided in the last few minutes. And then, there are the visitors, like me, who wander in from outside the sphere of influence. I make note of this sphere because for the real players, the world revolves around a ten-mile radius with the capitol in the center while those in the remaining 66,000 square miles or so are left waiting and wondering how their lives might change once the session adjourns.
I remember once gifting my Mom a very nice sweatshirt that she immediately fell in love with. Her first comment was “how in the world could the workers in Bangladesh know what I would like.” Of course, my Mom would have been thrilled with a pencil or an orange. But, as I think about the deliberations going on here in Salem, I’m led to wonder how a group of senators and representatives from the major population centers of this state could know what is important or best for people living in Jordan Valley, Joseph, Ukiah, or Lakeview?
I guess that’s why Senator Hansell and Representatives like Greg Barreto and Greg Smith are here to weigh in on our behalf, although it’s certainly an uphill battle being in the minority and representing geographical areas that if they were located in major population centers would be divided into six or eight different districts. I am told that’s where it becomes important to master the art of working across the aisle and those from rural areas do it with varying levels of enthusiasm and success.
Pragmatically, folks in rural Oregon have learned to play the hand they are dealt or they are likely to be folding early in the game. It is at times like this that I have a special appreciation for the Pendleton Round-Up – an event which people either regularly attend or have longed to attend for years – a fact that is shared readily as soon as you mention you are from Pendleton. In the case of elected officials, the Round-Up is like a magnet so we get to meet lots of them the second full week in September. Many come as guests of our legislators as a way of introducing them to our way of life.
It can be a full schedule with the Let ‘er Duck Breakfast, the OSU dinner, the Westward Ho Parade, the Governor’s Luncheon at Blue Mountain Community College, the Buckle Club Dinner at Wildhorse, and of course, the Round-Up performance itself and Happy Canyon. In between, they squeeze in special audiences to learn about important wishes and projects which we want to introduce.
It’s a time to dust off a cowboy hat that isn’t smeared with the dust and dirt of a hot summer chasing cows and to bring out a pair of cowboy boots that don’t need scraping. And, for a number of them, it’s a chance to mount Old Thunder or Fire Eyes and ride through the streets of Pendleton cheered on by 20,000 potential voters although not all of them vote in Oregon. Those horses remind me of Blaze, the one I used to ride when I was on the Frontier Days Board and rode in parades. With eight saddle blankets, old Blaze was almost level. Today, the thrill and excitement of Round-Up is six months and 250 miles behind us. Or, ahead of us, because clocks in Pendleton have only two movements – before Round-Up and after Round-Up. The hats and boots are for the most part back in the closet and those occupying the two chambers look like the legislators they are.
Today, it’s time for officials from Oregon’s 36 counties to come to Salem for County Legislative Day and have a chance to say hello and lobby for issues that are important to rural Oregon as well as some of the larger counties. It’s at times like this that we are grateful we got a chance to meet and visit with the legislators when they were in Pendleton. They have a little better sense of who we are and the values we represent. We aren’t just commissioners from Eastern Oregon – we are friends.
And while we have issues we want to pursue, there are lots of things legislators talk about that are supported by commissioners from all over Oregon and in return for our seeking their help, they often seek our help and support in return because we’ve become not just fellow elected officials, but partners in the process.
The ability for people from around Oregon to have thoughtful conversations is critical to good government and it’ s something we need to build upon. In the midst of all this, I’ll be spending a good bit of my time here lobbying for the renovation of the Umatilla County Jail and FARM II.
I’m hopeful my trip to the Cherry City will be productive. I guess we’ll find out in June.
Contributed by: George Murdock, commissioner, Umatilla County