A citizen's lobby

T.A. Barnhart

Sometimes an ordinary citizen gets to make a difference.

A couple of weeks ago, doing homework in preparation for the special session of the Oregon Legislature that began today, I read through all 140-some bills and resolutions being introduced in this session. (Strictly speaking, not the entire bills but their summaries. Still no small matter.) I wanted to see what might be on the agenda; given the nature and language of bills, not to mention the fact that I did not know what was in the laws that were being amended, this was a rather ambitious undertaking. But, being a good cub reporter and activist, I wanted to give it a shot.

My crucial discovery was not about what bills were being introduced but what was missing. Among the several resolutions honoring various persons, there was none honoring Oregon’s National Guard. To put it mildly, I was surprised.

I opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning; I worked in the 2009 session to get the House to consider a resolution to “Keep the Guard Home”. But I also have a son in the National Guard, and last August, he arrived in Iraq with Bravo Company and over 2,000 other members of the Oregon Guard in their largest deployment since World War II.

Thankfully, since arriving in country last August, there are have been very few injuries and only two fatalities. The “attacks” my son has encountered tooling around the backhills of Iraq doing transport escort have consisted, in his report, of badly aimed mortars that stirred up distant dust and nothing more. Yay for that, and yay that following next month’s Iraqi elections, the Guard will be coming home in April.

And then, last week at the victory party for Measures 66 & 67, I approached Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt and told him about the “missing” resolution. He was not just supportive of the idea: he immediately texted himself to keep it on his radar. This morning, when I arrived at the Capital this morning, I went by his office hoping to speak to his assistant but instead got lucky: Speaker Hunt himself walking into the office lobby. He reiterated his support for the concept, and then he had me go speak to Rep Jean Cowan, Chair of the Veterans and Emergency Services Committee. Progress!

Disappointment! Her initial response, with a resolution coming out of the blue at the beginning of a session that will be short and packed, was very constrained. She didn’t even sound like she thought it was a good idea. I left, somewhat dejected, but continued making the rounds of House offices, greeting legislators and their assistants I’ve gotten to know in the past few years by writing for BlueOregon and volunteering with the Bus Project. (Hey kids. Wanna be a political mover and shaker? Hint hint: Volunteer to help with elections. Candidates totally love that!)

Although no committee was doing anything more than introductions and adoption of rules, I went to as many of these as I could today, to make people’s acquaintance and tell them I would be around during the session. (I’m told by real journalists that’s a good way to “build a relationship”.) As it happened, the last committee to meet today was the Veteran’s Committee. I went in and sat down, prepared for yet another quick trip through routine. Instead, I got a big surprise that made my time in Salem today a great pleasure.

Rep Cowan, before the committee convened, asked me to be ready to introduce my concept to the committee and ask that they move it forward. I tried not to grin too stupidly, but I was thrilled. What had sounded earlier like reluctance was simply her caution: once she had a chance to discuss the idea with committee staff (and, possibly, the Speaker), she was happy to move the idea forward. So, after the committee concluded regular business, which took about nine minutes, I became one of the session’s first guest speakers, asking the committee to move forward the concept (as a bill is called in its pre-birth condition) for a resolution honoring the Guard. The committee, several of whom I walked for on the Bus — Judy Steigler, Greg Matthews and Chuck Riley — responded with an enthusiastic Yea vote. The resolution will now move forward.

One of the beauties of Oregon is how much like a small city the entire state is. I am not the state’s leading political blogger nor its most essential volunteer. Nonetheless, doing what I’ve done the past few years, I have met and gotten to know — and be known by — many of the state’s elected officials, including both U.S. Senators, the new Attorney General, the Treasurer and others. I’m not in anyone’s inner circle — no way am I blowing up my status — but Oregonians value one another, and they like to show it. My efforts are appreciated, and the gratitude is shown not in “thank you” form letters but personal words of thanks and warm smiles on faces.

And this afternoon, in the beginning of a process that will probably see the passage of the only measure not already on the docket at the start of the session. Yes, it’s for a cause most members of the Legislature support whole-heartedly, but the great thing about it — the special Oregon thing of it — is that it’s possible because as a citizen, I can walk into my state’s capital and be taken seriously. I didn’t need a lobbyist; I didn’t need a PR campaign.

I just needed something almost every member of the Oregon Legislature takes seriously: my own demonstrated commitment to the state. Call it a bonus for being an active citizen in a state where the office of citizen probably is the most highly regarded.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Well Done, with your permission I'll also take this up with Richardson and Telfer from the 'other'side. I can see no reason why this effort should not be bipartisan.

  • Greg Warnock (unverified)

    Hey- nice job today. There are some great people on that committee. I am sure the Senate side will support it as well. I'll certainly support it!

    The weak initial support might be partly my/our (veteran's advocates) fault. We have been working hard on tangible solutions to ongoing problems- and evidently (inadvertently) keeping the softer pieces of legislation at bay. So much so that the slow response didn't surprise me. Good lesson for me today- Thanks for what you did. It is appreciated.

  • not suprised about Jean Cowan (unverified)

    The initial response you got from Representative Cowan is her default reaction to almost everything. I am certain that she spoke with Speaker Hunt and he called the shot. I have the misfortune of living in her district, and I can at least reasure you that she treats her own constituents the same way.

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    the Rs in the Ctte today were enthusiastic in support. i spoke with Rep Freeman afterwards; he was great. the only "problem" is that it's a late addition. but the Speaker and committee staff are behind this, so it looks like it will be good.

    i can't say enough for Speaker Hunt, Rep Cowan, Rep Matthews, my Rep Bailey & all the rest.

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    Hear, hear. Good for you.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    A couple of weeks ago, doing homework in preparation for the special session of the Oregon Legislature that began today, I read through all 140-some bills and resolutions being introduced in this session.

    Well,that says it all, doesn't it? That's what's needed to reform government.

  • Tom Vail (unverified)

    Good work. Thanks for the effort.

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    zara, this has nothing to do with the need for reform. the Leg has 20 working days, 90 members & more issues than they can possibly get to. everyone accepts that quite a few good things will not be addressed simply because of time restraints.

    another reason for full annual sessions.

  • Martha Schrader (unverified)

    T.A., I wanted to thank you for your efforts today. I wanted to let you know that a bill was already in the works on the Senate side as well honoring the men and women of our National Guard. Please feel free to stop by the next time you are in Salem. I would love to talk further with you about the work we are doing to honor the Guard. Our reintegration bill from last session (SB 700) is setting up a statewide framework on how we can help our troops move back into our communities and be welcomed home.

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    Sen Schrader, that's great news. i didn't see it in the Big List of Submitted Bills (might have missed it). i'll definitely drop by to learn more, both about the resolutions and the framework for SB 700. thanks so much.

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)

    What, no resolution in favor of motherhood or apple pie? How did we miss that! In a state where we're about to have yet another shameful lottery to see who gets to see a doctor, getting a meaningless piece of political posturing added to the theater is considered "getting something done?"

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    Good going, TA. I appreciate all of your writing on what's happening in Salem right now.

  • Deborah Boone (unverified)
    <h2>T.A Barnhart is living proof that one person can (and does) make a difference in state government. He was polite, passionate and persistent and he got it done. Congratulations T.A. and I hope to see more of you in the Capitol.</h2>

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