Freshman Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend) just wrapped up an ambitious first session in the Oregon House. He sponsored a bevy of bills, resulting in some bold, bipartisan legislation. We sat down with Buehler to talk about the issues he championed and the challenges he faced. These are some of the highlights from that interview.
On working across party lines
I feel like we did a good job of focusing on what I call second-tier issues, where there's not as much partisanship built up, where people are freer to work across party lines and able to get more done than what I anticipated considering that environment. So I think there's a lot of learning. Stay away from those really highly charged, top-tier issues that really are many times party-line votes. But if you get below those to the tier-two issues you can get a lot of cross party activity and really do some good policy work and kind of push the politics to the side.
And there's a few lessons to be learned. One, certainly, is the vast majority of votes on bills are bipartisan, like overwhelmingly bipartisan, votes. I haven't done the math but I'd say 85-90 percent. What people hear about, what you guys write about, are the highly charged, divisive issues that are straight down party lines, but those are actually pretty far and few between. Now, to be fair, those sometimes are the most important issues, right? But being a freshman in the minority party I just stay away from those things. Cause they're at a higher pay grade than where I'm at. So below the surface there's a lot of collaboration and people working together, and you also just find people that are more willing to put the party differences aside and just focus on policy, and so I just gravitate toward those people. (Specifically, Buehler mentioned Democratic Reps. Rob Nosse, Alissa Keny-Guyer, Mitch Greenlick, and Val Hoyle and Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward.)
On increasing access to birth control
I think it's one of those issues that is outside the box. And whenever you do something outside the box the natural response is "no," right? 'Cause it's a change. Sometimes a fundamental paradigm change like that, it takes a while for people to become comfortable with it, so the time I spent in building support was in explaining and making sure people had a comfort level with it, actually both on the left and on the right. And once both understood it, both found something really attractive, you know. On the left they love increased access to contraception, and on the right, the attraction is decreasing the number of unintended pregnancies, which decreases the number of abortions. So once both the right and left understand that and they see that I'm not playing games or threatening anyone, I'm really trying to solve a real problem, then there was very little opposition to tell you the truth. Of course there were some Republicans who were hesitant. To be fair, some, to my surprise, on the left were also still a little bit hesitant, but as they become more familiar the opposition kind of melts away. We had really no serious opposition until very late from the Catholic Church and I think that was more just because of their traditional position. They do like tradition, right?
On funding Mirror Pond
We're going to continue pursuing it, it was well received. Many times these types of asks and projects take two or three times to run at it to actually get over the finish line. I think the community showed well, we had a tremendous number of people travel over and testify on the Mirror Pond bill. It was alive right to the last few days, so we've been encouraged to come back again and I think we will just get better each time at fine-tuning the proposal and the structure and the governance of the money. That was one of the things that was a criticism is we want to know exactly what the governance is. There's going to be a public-private partnership, but exactly who is going to control it? Where exactly is the money going to go? And I think those are fair things. So we're going to get together again as a coalition and fine tune it and come back again. It was a useful exercise for a few reasons. One, I think it raised the attention statewide on the issue. And it was very well received, by the way. And we had Democratic support in both the House and Senate. And I also think it coalesced the community around the vision. I think there's some people who don't like the vision, but there's a vast majority of people who think that's the right way to go, and then as we started to talk about it, then Tumalo Irrigation District says, "Yeah, we could not only modify Newport Dam so it's more environmentally friendly but, by the way, we could take out a dam." Now you're starting to talk about an incredible opportunity. How often in an iconic western river do you have a chance to modify a dam substantially to allow fish passage and recreational use and improve riparian zones, but you also take out a dam completely?
For more from Rep. Buehler, check out the Bent blog at bendsource.com.