Rep Judy Stiegler: Having a great time getting to consensus

T.A. Barnhart

Rep Judy Stiegler HD 54In 2008, I went to Bend three different times with the Bus Project to walk for Judy Stiegler. Judy had lost a close contest in 2004, than sat out the 2006 election; in 2008, we were determined she would be one of new progressives we would get into the Legislature. Judy's background was compelling: getting a college education despite a tough childhood, pioneering woman lawyer, a school board member, girls sports coach — not to mention the wife of the long-time local DA. But this was Bend, not an area known for electing Democrats. Judy was a great candidate but did we have the right district, the right election?

As it turned out, we did. Judy was one of the Bus' great successes in 2008, and the people of HD 54 got themselves a great representative. I spoke to Judy last week about her experience 4 months into her first term. We didn't have a lot of time to talk, but I came away, as I always do with Judy, with a deeper respect for her sincerety, her quiet passion, her intelligence and the fact that she seems to be having a hell of a lot of fun being a legislator!

It took you a couple of tries to get into the Legislature.

Yes it did.

Glad it happened. How does the experience you are now in the middle of compare to what you were expecting?

I think a lot of it is very much what I expected. There's a little twist and turn here, things... But I think I had a good sense... You can never appreciate the intricacies, the internal operations until you're in the middle of them. I think from a standpoint of how things work, the give and take in the Legislature, the ups and downs; that all meets pretty much with what I expected and anticipated. I don't have any gross surprises in that regard.

I like the use of the word "gross."

laughter If you knew me, that's a word I often use to describe certain situations.

Your committee assignments: Are you happy with them?

Yes I am; very happy with them. They have been, my Judiciary Committee has been wonderfully, intellectually challenging. Also challenging on a lot of other fronts. There are times when I've had to realize, that my strong views and opinions on some things, you know, you need to come to consensus at some point if you want to get anything done. It's been a very challenging committee in a very good and positive way. I think it's sort of got me back... I love the law, and I love working within that realm. It's been a really positive experience.

And then my Education Subcommitte for Ways and Means; obviously another area I have a lot of passion for. The only thing that's surprised me there is how many different boards and agencies ... mostly boards ... that we deal with, that are part of our jurisdiction under that committee. Things like the Psychologists Examining Board and the Mortuary Board, things like that. That was a little bit of a surprise. But other than that, that's an area that's near and dear to my heart. From pre-K Head Start, up through the University System. Education is something I value greatly, and I want to make sure we don't go backwards in this state.

Amen. Any further backwards, I would think.

Yes, yes. There are those of us who lived in a time ... I'm the product, I graduated from an Oregon high school down in Grants Pass, went to the University of Oregon. You know, I went to the U of O, I went on an Oregon State Scholarship which they don't have anymore. Work study. My little bit of Social Security that I got back in those days — my father died when I was young; students were entitled to Social Security benefits up to a certain age — that's what got me through college. And if it hadn't been for the combination of those things, I never would have gotten a college education.

We have to invest in it. Hopefully we've started re-investing, particularly in our higher ed, and hopefully we won't go backwards too far.

Because you're proof...

Yep! dad was the same kind of thing: GI Bill.


With the drive over the mountains between home and the capital, do you feel like you're able to keep in touch with constituents ok?

Sure. Constituent contact has been one of my priorities. I get chided by some of my fellow legislators about how assiduous we are in responding to our constituents, my constituents. But i think it's really, really important. And you know what? When I go home, I make it a commitment to try to get home every weekend. Now there've been a couple, when I went to a family wedding earlier, things like that. Like this weekend, part of the weekend's going to be spent up in Portland doing the NAMI Walk. I don't always make it home for the full weekend, but as I tell people, a walk through Fred Meyer on Saturday doing my grocery shopping is worth 10 newsletters I can send out. It's just a great way of staying in touch with people. People know who I am, they'll stop me in the store and we'll chat and talk. It's wonderful, frankly, just being in town, being around people. On Sundays I usually go and sing in my church choir, talk with people afterwards. It is, it's a very important part of keeping that contact and keeping real.

Now that you've been there a few months, constituents who want to get in touch with you, to make their concerns know to you and to try and assist you on legislation you might be promoting on their behalf; what are the best ways for constituents to both keep in solid contact with you, but, more importantly, become a partner with you at the grassroots level?

Java with JudyI think they can do it in one of a number of ways. They can call me. They are not going to get me on the phone, but they can set up a phone conversation. Or probably, more preferably, they can email me. Or they can send me a letter. And then obviously I have town hall meetings about every 5 weeks or so. I've had 3 thus far this session. They're usually on a Saturday morning; they're my "Java with Judy". That's an opportunity for them to come and talk with me as well. I try to give them multiple venues to have contact with me. Like I said, we endeavor to respond to every constituent who makes some contact with us. When a constituent calls with a concern, the person who does my scheduling and constituent contact, Linda, and Rachel, my L.A., they always make sure I'm aware of what those concerns are. We always try to respond. Sometimes it's not the response people want, but we always respond to emails, letters, phone calls.

As a Bus volunteer, my concern, my goal is grassroots activism. Based on what you've experienced so far in the Legislature, how would you encourage them, if you were to sit down with them, your constituents to become part of the overall process themselves? A lot of it is, I wouldn't say it's secret it, but it's somewhat occult in the strange rules that are involved?

It's a process, is what it is. Yea, there are rules regarding committee and how things get heard, public hearings and that kind of thing. There are multiple ways for people to get involved. Like I said, they can write me, they can email me. If they have an issue that is near and dear to their heart, they have to endeavor to make their voice heard. And they can do that, like I said, in a multiple of ways. They can write me in an email or writing. The can come visit me over here in the Capital. My priority for visits, for actual face-to-face visits, are constituents first and foremost. Obviously, other legislators; they also have priority. And then we go down to the next rung. We talk about lobbyists and advocates. I would much rather, for instance, see somebody who is an advocate, a citizen lobbyist basically, a citizen advocate for an issue, then anybody who would priority over a paid lobbyist. Not that paid lobbyists don't also get access to me, but I have a prioritization of access, and that's sort of how it goes.

People do make a difference. There have been changes made in bills that have been introduced. I have seen ... One of the best examples I can give of how the citizen has had an impact on the process is, look at the rebalancing effort that went on. The co-chairs came out with a proposal and there were those of us both within and constituents without who said, No this isn't going to work. And they made their voices heard and changes were made. As a result, at least we ended up with a rebalance package that, even though there were cuts, it was more palatable than it would have been otherwise.

And speaking of lobbyists, the real ones, how's that experience been?

You know, I think you have to approach it from the perspective that they are people who are paid to give you the position of somebody and some interest on an issue. I deal with them; I give them respect, and I talk with them, but I make it very clear to them that they don't have any greater sway than anybody else does. And in fact, as I said, probably my own constituents or citizen advocates have even more sway just because I know it's coming from the heart. There's a passion behind it. It's just to me, like you said, the grassroots efforts to me make a lot more of an impact than the paid lobbyists. That's their job, and I don't denigrate that, I mean, the people who they represent are entitled to have them. There are times when it's very necessary ... you know, I can think of interest groups where that's the best way they have to have access. Like the District Attorney's Association, the Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, ACLU, those kinds of things. Having a point person who is laying the groundwork, talking to legislators. Often times that's the most efficient way to do it. That's different, though, than some of the other folks. But I love hearing from the citizen advocates and my constituents.

Have their been any bills that have come up that have exciting to you, that you've been able to participate with?

I get excited at a lot of different things. Some of the stuff, it's not necessarily the big, sexy, headline-grabbing stuff. Knowing that maybe I made a difference. Somebody approached me earlier on about sponsoring a whistle-blowing bill for private employees. To me, that's a bill that makes a difference. I did a quiet little bill that increases the processing fee that employers can charge when they have to do a wage garnishment. And though it sounds like it penalizes the employee, in reality what it does is say, You're doing the public's work for them, so here's a little compensation. It's very minor, $2 per week in wages. So in a whole year, the most you could ever charge is $104 dollars. So it's very minimal. But it says something to people out there, it says, We care enough about your issues. Whether it's an employee who is trying to the do the right thing when an employer is doing the wrong thing; or somebody, like an employer who is following the law, doing what they're supposed to do, and doing a service for the public essentially. I've been involved in helping shepherd through criminal provisions like invasion of personal privacy. I had a cyber harassment bill that was fairly interesting. A lot of these things are not, like I said, big, sexy, headline-grabbing bills, but they're little things that do something for a certain segment of the population out there. One of the things for my community that I've been involved in is getting changes to the Transportation Planning Rule, to make it so that local governments can work with the Oregon Department of Transportation and try to work out things that are logical for development rather than creating more traffic problems or more hazards.

I mean there's just a whole slew of things. There have been some ... I supported HB 2186, which was a tough, hard vote for the potential implications but I thought it made sense, I thought it did things the right way. It asked for LCDC to do things, to approach some of the climate change issues in a very thoughtful manner rather than the Legislature just picking numbers and rules and regulations out of the sky. I thought it was a better way to approach this. I thought this is an example of the Legislature learning from past actions. There's a lot of things. A lot of bills.

I'll tell you what I'm most excited about. Being part of a process where something comes in at the front end and you have a lot of disparate opinions about it, and there's no consensus, and being able to work that through top to a product, so people can go, You know what, this'll work.

I'll tell you another one I'm proud of, one that I've been happy to have been involved with: 2228, and that's the one regarding Community Forests and pilot projects. There's a multiple of things.

What are your expectations for the rest of the session, especially now we're heading into — probably already there — crunchtime?

My expectations are to get us out of this session with a budget that doesn't cut people off at their knees. That we try to protect our most vulnerable citizens, that we make sure that we do do those core things that government needs to do, which is educate its people, protect its people, and to serve those who are in need of some help and assistance. And that's my goal.

How bad do you think it's going to end up being?

I have no idea. I really don't. ... What I hope is that in the end, we can all come together to figure out where we have to make the cuts, but where we can perhaps raise some revenue to back fill some of those cuts, or to leverage Federal stimulus dollars. Or where we can use reserves appropriately. So what I'm hoping is that we can all come together in making those decisions.

  • alcatross (unverified)

    I'm not from Bend and don't know Judy Stiegler. It sounds she is a fine person and I've no doubt she is. It's also apparent she will be a capable legislator because she's already demonstrating one of the politicians 'tricks of the trade' in saying only just enough of the truth to make her desired case or impression.

    When she says "You know, I went to the U of O, I went on an Oregon State Scholarship which they don't have anymore. Work study. My little bit of Social Security that I got back in those days — my father died when I was young; students were entitled to Social Security benefits up to a certain age — that's what got me through college. And if it hadn't been for the combination of those things, I never would have gotten a college education." - we're left to believe the 'Oregon State Scholarship which they don't have anymore' must have went the way of the dodo bird due to yet more draconian budget cuts... Well, it IS true the 'Oregon State Scholarship' name isn't around anymore - but what she DOESN'T say is that the old 'Oregon State Scholarship' has only been renamed and folded into the Oregon Student Assistance Commission

    It's also true Social Security survivors benefits for full-time college students (only in being since 1965) were phased out between 1982 and 1985. But she doesn't tell us about the explosion in federal financial aid/scholarships since then - fueling the astounding growth of the price of higher education. It's only in the last few years that perhaps some colleges and universities are starting to realize they may have outpaced the golden goose.

    More truth is that higher education in the US is generally awash in money (much of it coming from those government grants, scholarships, etc) - it's part of the reason why the price of college has risen faster than inflation and about anything else except health care the last 20 to 30 years. Compared to other countries, the US is way out of balance when it comes to the proportion of $ spent on higher education versus primary K-12. (Maybe that's why our primary education system 'sucks', as Jenson says...)

    The price of a good or service in the open market is determined by what people are willing to pay for it. And as long as government entities are willing to dispense money hand-over-fist to help people pay for higher education, the price is going to continue to rise. (There's also a legitimate question whether too many people are going to college... but that's another topic-)

  • (Show?)

    alc, it was a phone interview. we had less than 20 minutes. thanks for expanding on her reminences of her life & experience with your own knowledge, but please don't make it sound like she was hiding something from us. Judy's worked hard on behalf of Oregon students for years, and she's doing her best in Salem in that regard (as are most of the legislators). you have something to add? why not take the time to make your comments positive?

  • Perpugilliam Brown (unverified)
    <h2>Nice. Very nice. I mean, there's nothing politics-as-usual about that! Very nice, Messier Barnhart.</h2>

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