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Kitzhaber plans to focus on rural Oregon
He has stressed the need to include smaller communities in economic recovery strategies
February 07, 2013
During recent elections, Crook County residents have frequently complained to aspiring state-level candidates that Oregon’s government fails to focus on the needs of rural communities.
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber (D) has seemingly noticed the same trend, and during his recent State of the State address, expressed his intentions to reverse that trend.
During his speech last month, he told lawmakers he wants to “ensure that the next phase of Oregon’s economic recovery reaches all Oregonians.”
“The word ‘recovery’ loses any useful meaning if it describes a state where the Portland metro area returns to pre-recession employment levels while much of rural Oregon continues to suffer the economic and social consequences of double-digit unemployment, outdated infrastructure, and an aging workforce,” Kitzhaber said.
The governor challenged legislators to find ways to create more living wage jobs in Oregon, eliminate barriers to the growth and success of homegrown small businesses, and improve workforce training programs.
Kitzhaber’s spokesperson Tim Raphael said that the governor began his commitment to rural communities during the first two years of his term. He said that Kitzhaber supported legislation that protected Facebook from unexpected state taxes, and has joined efforts to make Columbia River water available for irrigators in Eastern Oregon. He has also boosted funding in his latest budget to support forest collaborative projects, which enable local communities to manage a portion of forest land and harvest timber.
“It would be the ongoing focus of the administration, both in terms of specific projects and policies that the governor has pursued in the first two years,” Raphael said of Kitzhaber’s recent comments, “and I think he was signaling that together with the legislature, (we) needed more of a comprehensive effort over this next two (years) to really work at closing that gap in unemployment and income levels between urban and rural Oregon.”
To that end, Raphael said the governor has deployed regional solutions teams to locations throughout the state, including Central Oregon.
“This is kind of a key strategy of getting state government out of Salem and into the communities that need help,” he said.
Republican Senator Doug Whitsett, who serves Crook County as part of Senate District 28, was encouraged by what Kitzhaber said, and hopes to see that commitment yield positive results for his constituents.
“That is something I haven’t heard from him before,” he said, “and frankly, I didn’t really hear it from (former) Governor (Ted) Kulongoski.”
Representative Mike McLane (R-Dist. 55), who also serves Crook County and a variety of other rural communities, complimented Kitzhaber on his message.
“I think the governor laid out the proper recognition that the rural economy needs to be a priority in Oregon,” he said. “He is on record two years ago of affirming that 50 jobs in rural Oregon are worth as many as 500 in Portland.”
McLane acknowledged the support he has received from Kitzhaber on his Facebook legislation as well as his ongoing efforts to provide Columbia River water for agriculture.
“In those aspects, he is walking the talk, and I appreciate that.”
Along with the praise, both Whitsett and McLane identified some rural-specific concerns that they hope Kitzhaber will help them address. McLane, for example, wants the governor to stay open to land use policy adjustments, and recognize that the soils east of the Cascades are different and should be considered for uses that lead to economic development.
Whitsett hopes that Kitzhaber will help scale back environmental regulations that govern clean air and water. While he supports the notion of preventing pollution, he feels the overly strict rules stifle natural resource-based industries in Oregon.
The senator added that Oregon needs to find a way to cut energy costs.
“We’re seeing the price of electricity driving many farmers and ranchers out of business,” Whitsett said. “They can’t afford to pump water anymore.”
The Oregon Legislature reconvened for its five-month session this week, and whether or not the ideals Kitzhaber spoke of come to fruition remains to be seen. McLane said he would readily hold the governor accountable if he turns his back on rural communities, but so far, he sees no reason to expect that outcome.
“He has done a good job,” he said, “and I expect that he will continue to prioritize rural Oregon.”