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Retired vet teaches science in state Capitol. Years of experience help legislator bring rural perspective to issues
Story and photos by Jacqui Krizo for the Capital Press

■ 900 Court St. NE, S-302 Salem,
OR 97301
■ 503-986-1728

Being a farmboy and a retired veterinarian, Sen. Doug Whitsett brings rural values and education to the Oregon Senate. “The Interior Department works with the best available science. Too often that science is financed by special-interest groups and represents the only available
Oregon Sen. Doug Whitsett and his wife, Gail, were never wannabe politicians.

Doug Whitsett grew up on a dairy in Powell Butte, Ore. He earned his Doctorate of Veterinary Science from Washington State University, worked at the Klamath Animal Clinic and eventually bought the business.

He served as president of the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association until he retired from the practice in 1994. “It was very hard to quit the vet business, a business I built for 25 years,” he said. “I had a great rapport with clients and ranchers.”

Over the course of his career, he said, he preg-checked more than a million head of cattle.

Doug and Gail Whitsett return to their rural home in Southern Oregon between sessions.

Gail Whitsett’s ancestors drove the first Hereford cattle into the state of California from Virginia in the 1830s. She is from seven generations of ranching families. She earned her master’s in geology from Oregon State University and worked in oil exploration and development.

The Whitsetts began their lives together breeding German Warmblood dressage horses. Their stallion Conquistador became the leading sire of U.S. dressage competition horses.

Using their science and rural backgrounds, they became involved in local resource issues: “I have always been a property advocate, and I believe water rights are property rights,” Doug Whitsett said. “Without water rights, land has little value.”

 He was elected president of Klamath County Cattlemen and Water For Life and wrote a column in Cascade Cattlemen magazine. Gail Whitsett was appointed to the Hatfield Working Group.

Doug Whitsett watched as federal agencies and The Nature Conservancy converted 80,000 acres of private agricultural land into wetlands, decimating the cattle industry he served while a veterinarian. “The Interior Department works with the best available science. Too often that science is financed by special-interest groups and represents the only available science,” Whitsett said.

“As cattle develop, they convert vegetative phosphorus into muscle and bone. Ranchers are being blamed for polluting the waters with phosphorus while the cattle above the lake are removing as much as 300 tons of phosphorus out of the Upper Klamath Basin each year. What they said the cattle were doing to the lake is impossible.”

Gail Whitsett added that the millions of tons of phosphorus-rich sediment at the bottom of Klamath Lake are actually derived from phosphorus- rich bedrock, naturally eroded from mountains surrounding the lake.

“The opportunity to run for the Oregon Senate occurred suddenly,” Doug Whitsett said. “I’d never even held a public office, and it was a tough learning curve. I was sleeping only four hours day when I took office as a senator.”

On election day he received nearly 70 percent of the votes across District 28, the second-largest geographic Senate district in Oregon.

His passion for rural America drove him to run, he said. “I have been personally sickened by what has been perpetrated on the farming and ranching communities of Oregon. We owe everything we have to the rural culture, lifestyle and economy. Everything that built this great country is being strangled.”

He has made several critical changes in laws and policy with his wife working by his side. Klamath County cattle rancher Bill Kennedy said, “Sen. Whitsett played a pivotal role in the creation and passage of power rate shock legislation, aiding farmers and wildlife habitat on private land. The high standards and ethics that Doug and Gail live by truly benefit all Oregonians.”

The Whitsetts have found a lack of correct information regarding the use of natural resources in lawmaking including agriculture, timber and mining. He said one woman was looking for a ban on all field burning in Oregon. “When I explained why farmers burn their fields, she changed her mind.”

When radical environmental interests attempted to place a moratorium on new wells, Whitsett said they provided testimony that was simply untrue. “People even testified that ‘all the birds and fish were dead in the Klamath Basin.’ They’re being told that we are a small, insignificant farming community that is unnecessarily polluting our lakes and rivers and decimating the Klamath salmon runs.”

At the beginning of the coming Senate session, Doug Whitsett will be working on a bipartisan Rural Caucus to support rural areas and rural issues. He said in Klamath Falls, for instance, developers want to build a $100 million commercial center that would create 3,000 new jobs and provide $2 million in annual property taxes. “Unfortunately, appeals by two Oregon state departments are likely to kill the project, further damaging our rural economy.”

In Salem the Whitsetts are dealing with hundreds of statewide issues. Gail Whitsett said they look at this venture as a privilege. She believes in her husband and the job he is doing. She said he spends every waking hour studying the issues and how best they can make a difference in representing the people of Oregon.

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