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Central Oregon Lawmakers Head Back Home


After 150 days, the Oregon Legislature closes up shop and heads home Thursday night, marking the shortest session in 42 years.

The five-month 2011 session was marked with three historic firsts: it was the first annual session, the first time the House was split 30-30 between the major parties and the first time for a returning, three-term governor.

“I don’t know if anybody really knew what to expect with an even split in the house and a near even split in the Senate and a new old governor coming in, what really the dynamics were going to be,” said Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles as the session drew to a close.

But with the pound of the gavel and sine die, our Central Oregon lawmakers are coming back home. But what exactly will they be up to?

It’s an easy answer for Powell Butte Representative Mike McLane, when asked what he will be doing now that the session has ended.

“I’m going to take my kids fishing,” McLane said. “After the fishing, I’m going to get around and see everybody.”

That’s also what Bend Senator Chris Telfer will be doing.

“I’m going to get out and try to convey what we did in this session and hear what their concerns are,” Telfer said.

It’s been a long session for our Central Oregon delegation.

“I worked hard, I tried to stay true to my commitments in the campaign and to my principles,” said freshman Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend.

One of those commitments Conger worked on was getting the OSU-Cascades building bill passed — and he succeeded, on the very last day of the session.

The former home of Edge Wireless on Columbia Avenue in Bend will give the college more space and house graduate programs.

The redistricting compromise was also important for our area, and probably nobody will be more affected than The Dalles Representative John Huffman.

“Not too many legislators can say they are losing counties in the redistricting but I am,” Huffman said.

While Huffman still serves Sisters, Terrebonne, Crooked River Ranch and will now serve the area around Eagle Crest, he’ll be losing Sherman, Gilliam and Grant counties.

“It’s going to be really disappointing to lose all the wonderful people I’ve got to know in Sherman, Gilliam and Grant counties,” Huffman said. “It’s going to be a tough goodbye.”

As for Rep. Gene Whisnant, the Sunriver Republican said, “I tell people, they don’t believe me but actually I work harder in the interim than I do in the session.”

Whisnant pushed and won approval of an extension of a Deschutes River Mitigation bill to keep making sure water goes back in the river to equal any new uses.

“I tell people that when I go home after the session, and I want people to think I did a good job and look in the mirror and say, ‘Yes, Gene, I did do that,'” Whisnant said.

After many debates, compromises and bills passed, a long five months comes to an end.

“I’ll walk out the door, I’ll feel like I can shut the door, lock the door and say job well done,” Conger said. “But not without the feeling that there is more work left to do.”

Other highlights from this year’s Legislature include the expansion of Oregon’s Bottle Bill and cracking down on child prostitution, as well as major changes in the state’s education systems and low-income health care.

But the ban on Bisphenol-A from baby bottles and banning plastic grocery bags got shot down.

As for the top issue in many minds — creating more jobs — the level of success depends on who you talk to.

Lawmakers will return to Salem for a much shorter session, 35 days in February.

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