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Lawmakers prepare for legislative session

State legislators discuss divides between Ore. urban, rural areas

by DEVAN SCHWARTZ, Herald and News 2/5/13

It’s no easy task splitting years, and often weeks, between hometowns and Salem, although state lawmakers somehow make it work. And legislators from east of the Cascades such as Mike McLane and Doug and Gail Whitsett face especially tricky circumstances.

In advance of a legislative session, Rep. McLane, R-Dist. 55, had his pickup serviced, tires rotated, air filters replaced and sensors fixed. He said he drives an ‘08 Chevy with all-wheel drive and sandbags in the bed.

This isn’t just a precaution. When McLane’s inlaws drove back to Bend after seeing him sworn in, they hit black ice near Detroit and flipped their car (no one was hurt).

McLane comes home to Rocky Butte every Friday evening during the session, not leaving until Sunday when his kids’ homework is done. With an eighth grade daughter and a son in high school, there’s plenty to catch up on.

Luckily, McLane’s oldest son is a freshman at Willamette University in Salem. Once a week, McLane takes him to dinner and asks for the scoop on his college life.

During the week, McLane stays in a Salem motel with a monthly rate, a place pointed out to him by retired Republican Rep. Bill Garrard.

As the new House Republican Leader, McLane suddenly has many more staffers to juggle. In addition to nine caucus staff, Katie Osborn is an in-district staff member and Klamath Union graduate Shawn Cleave serves as chief of staff.

Besides serving in the state legislature, McLane is a lawyer representing small businesses in Eastern Oregon and an Air National Guardsman as a Judge Advocate General.

“It can get a little busy,” McLane admitted in a recent phone interview.

Two offices, two homes

Doug and Gail Whitsett are very used to traveling and working together, she his former chief of staff of eight years, though now the married couple has offices in each end of the capitol and two staffs.

Gail won a two-year term to replace Garrard in District 56.

Traveling across great distances between Klamath Falls and Salem, and during the interim to meet with constituents, the Whitsetts expect the unexpected. “You just pick the weather conditions — we’ve seen them,” said Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Dist. 28.

On one particularly snowy drive returning from Lakeview, Whitsett said he saw only three vehicles, two of which were snowplows.

“Weather conditions and the sheer amount of travel are our biggest issues,” Gail said, who recalled a day with meetings in Crook and Jackson County, about four hours apart.

State divides

Their districts encompassing great geographical regions, the Whitsetts say they’re acutely aware of divides in the state between urban and rural areas, and between Democrats and Republicans.

And because Democrats have majorities in both chambers, the Whitsetts work hard to reach across the aisle. “Politics is a numbers game,” said Doug. “I hate it but that’s what it is. You always have to agree to disagree.”

The Whitsetts themselves keep a home in Salem and Klamath Falls, though their hearts are east of the Cascades where their agrarian sides shine.

Doug retired from a veterinary practice in 1995. “My shoulders wore out before my practice did,” he said.

And though the Whitsetts now have just two mares, plus other horses leased out, they formerly had between 45 and 50 horses for breeding purposes. In the late 1990s, they had the leading dressage sire for U.S. horses, facilitating the first American-bred stallion to have highestaverage dressage scores.

They’re thankful to have mainly gotten out of that business before the recession, though a tank of liquid nitrogen in their barn is still packed with stallion semen — which they sell.

They’re also thankful for family in the area helping maintain their home and livestock when they’re in Salem doing the people’s work.

Looking forward to the legislative session, which began this week, Gail said she’s excited by the bipartisanship shown by new Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, D-Dist. 44.

Kotek listened sympathetically to Whitsett’s explanation of a bill she plans to introduce requiring homes to be tested for methamphetamines prior to sale, in light of Klamath Falls’ Hankins family, who discovered chemicals from meth production after moving in.

Kotek also asked Gail to attend her swearingin ceremony to show that “urban and rural areas can work together,” Whitsett said. “Now we’ll see how it goes.”

dschwartz@heraldandnews   com



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