Our Urban-Rural Divide Deepens
Newsletter by Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett, Senate District 28,
Oregon’s urban-rural divide has been a constant theme of my
weekly newsletter updates during my three terms serving in the
Senate. Both the 2015 and the current 2016 Legislative
Assemblies have served to highlight that ever-increasing split.
It will only continue to get worse over time.
Two contentious issues being debated in recent weeks illustrate
the extent of the gulf.
Last November, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission (OFWC)
voted to remove the Canadian gray wolf from the state’s
endangered species list. My staff attended the OFWC meeting and
entered the support the support that I and Rep. Gail Whitsett
(R-Klamath Falls) have for the de-listing decision. The
meeting’s attendees were evenly divided between pro-wolf
activists from the Willamette Valley, where none of the wolves
are actually located, and ranchers and elected representatives
from the areas that wolves do inhabit.
The OFWC decision came days after it was reported that a calf
was killed and eaten in Klamath County and two others were badly
mauled in the first confirmed wolf attacks on livestock outside
Northeast Oregon. Recently, an article was published in the
Klamath Falls Herald and News, stating that a fifth
radio-collared wolf is now located in Klamath County.
According to the article, the public has reported sightings of
the wolf to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and its
presence in the area was confirmed through an aerial helicopter
survey. That article goes on to state that the wolf was
scavenging on cow carcasses on private property, and that it has
been spotted in the North Poe Valley and the Swan Lake Area.
Last week, a 500 pound heifer calf was severely mauled by that
collared wolf that is now ranging directly behind our own
Klamath County farm. The new wolf brings the total count of
wolves in the region to seven, not counting their pups.
Pro-wolf environmental advocacy organizations had previously
spoken out against House Bill 3515 during the 2015 session. The
stridently claimed that only ODFW scientists had the expertise
to make the delisting determination and must be allowed to make
the decision based on the best available science. However, when
the OFWC made their science based decision they were sued by
some of the same advocacy groups who demanded the ODFW
scientists be allowed to make the delisting determination. .
House Bill 4040-A serves to ratify the OFWC’s decision to remove
the gray wolf from the state list of endangered species. It
would confirm the Legislative Assembly’s confidence that the
ODFW scientists did their job based on the scientific criteria
established in the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.
The first public hearing on HB 4040-A was held in the House
Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on February 4. Rep.
Whitsett is a member of that committee. The bill passed out of
that committee during a February 9 work session on an 8-1 vote,
with Rep. Greg Barreto (R-Pendleton), Rep. Sal Esquivel
(R-Medford), Rep. Wayne Krieger (R-Gold Beach) and Rep. Whitsett
joined by four Democrats in support. The bill then passed the
House February 12 on a 33-23 bipartisan vote, with mostly
Willamette Valley Democrats in opposition.
HB 4040-A was then referred to the Senate Environment and
Natural Resources Committee. I am a member of that committee
where a two and a half hour public hearing was held on that bill
on February 16. It was the sole item on the agenda.
Environmental advocacy groups made a full-court press to oppose
HB 4040-A. They’ve even encouraged their activists to call my
office asking me to vote against it. The vast majority of the
callers were from the Willamette Valley, where, once again, not
a single wolf is currently living.
Often times, environmentalists make emotion-based appeals
regarding this issue showing no regard to the very real effects
that wolves have on the people who actually live in
wolf-inhabited areas. Those appeals typically contain much
misinformation, seemingly deliberately aimed at tugging at the
heartstrings of people who may be less knowledgeable about the
But the simple facts are that HB 4040-A honors the work done on
the Wolf Conservation and Management Plan for more than 15 years
by a wide range of stakeholders. As expected, conservation
groups immediately filed legal appeals to the OFWC’s decision.
In my opinion, the Plan’s details and buy-in from stakeholder
groups are jeopardized when people who don’t get what they want
can force ODFW into closed-door settlement talks. It is typical
for environmental groups to use these kinds of tactics, which
enable them to essentially hijack the public process and try to
use the courts to advance their political agenda.
What’s worse, taxpayers must fund the legal defense of the
agency’s decision, regardless of the merits of the appeal, or
the lack thereof. Settlements too often result in the
environmental advocate plaintiffs recovering their legal fees
and court costs from the public.
To be clear, HB 4040-A does not remove any current protections
for the wolves under the law. Despite the fearmongering from
environmental groups to the contrary, it does not change the
wolf plan or legalize the hunting or killing of wolves.
All things considered, HB 4040-A represents a reasonable
approach to a difficult problem facing people in rural areas.
The bill is certainly more moderate than a bill introduced by an
Eastern Washington lawmaker, whose district has 11 of that
state’s 13 wolf packs. That proposal calls for packs to be
established in Western Washington, where there is presumably
more political support for the creatures.
Senate Bill 1532-A also will serve to accentuate Oregon’s
urban-rural divide. This bill essentially creates three Oregons,
with separate minimum wages based on geography.
Republican Senators begged, cajoled and used every parliamentary
procedure in the book in our attempt to either stop the bill or
make it less destructive to rural Oregon farms and businesses.
The final vote came following a marathon seven-hour Senate floor
debate. SB 1532-A passed the Senate February 11 on a 16-12
mostly partisan vote, with Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose)
joining Republicans in opposition.
The bill then passed the House February 18 on a 32-26 vote after
a similar long session, with Democrats John Lively
(D-Springfield) and Caddie McKeown (D-Coos Bay) joining all
House Republicans in voting against it.
Under SB 1532-A, minimum wage workers in the Portland
metropolitan area would see an increase from the current
statewide $9.25 per hour to $9.75 July 1, 2016. The rate for
those workers would then increase in graduated steps to $14.75
by June 30, 2023.
Counties defined as “non-urban,” which include Baker, Coos,
Curry, Douglas, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Jefferson, Malheur,
Morrow, Sherman, Umatilla, Union Wallowa and Wheeler, as well as
Crook, Klamath and Lake in the district that I represent, would
be under a completely different set of wage rates. Minimum wage
workers in those counties would see an increase from $9.25 per
hour to $9.50 by July 1. Mandated minimum wage would then
increase to $12.50 per hour in graduated steps by June 30, 2023.
Workers in all other areas of the state would see an increase to
$9.75 per hour by July 1, with an increase in graduated steps to
$13.50 by June 30, 2023.
Governor Brown appears eager to sign the bill into Oregon law.
The ultimate irony of this wage mandate is that Salem Democrats
have made a habit, for the past several years, of claiming to be
against income inequality. Their proposed solution, in this
instance, is to institutionalize the exact same kind of
inequality that they claim to be against.
There may be other problems associated with SB 1532-A.
Linn County has obtained a legal opinion stating that the
provisions of the bill are tantamount to an unconstitutional
unfunded mandate from the state. What’s worse, SB 1532-A may be
in violation of Article I, Section 30 of the Oregon
Constitution, which states quite simply that “no law shall be
passed granting to any citizen or class of citizens privileges,
or immunities, which, upon the same terms, shall not equally
belong to all citizens.”
The bill mandates that people must be paid different
compensation for performing the same work. Consider how this
bill would be received if it required different pay for
I understand that residents of the Portland area are feeling the
crunch of rising housing prices. I do feel, however, that there
is a growing recognition that it is due to decades of the same
no-growth policies that have made it against the law to build
houses or conduct industry or commerce on the vast majority of
the land within Oregon.
Those policies have also been a key contributing factor to the
poverty that has been crippling rural parts of the state.
Unfortunately, instead of solving the root of the problem, Salem
Democrats have chosen to double down on the same mentality and
policies that caused it.
Moreover, the bill will certainly result in widespread
reductions in hours worked, reductions in other benefits that
are not mandated by state law, and outright termination of jobs.
Increasing joblessness will not improve the plight of Oregonians
living in poverty. It is the antithesis of social justice.
Rather than creating a more prosperous Oregon, SB 1532-A will
serve to worsen our urban-rural divide, instead of creating a
prosperous Oregon for everyone in it.
Please remember--if we do not stand up for rural Oregon, no one
Senate District 28
Email: Sen.DougWhitsett@state.or.us I Phone: 503-986-1728
Address: 900 Court St NE, S-311, Salem, OR 97301
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