Wayne Kinney was Oregon's first rural field representative. After two decades of working for Wyden, Kinney says he will miss the people in Central and Eastern Oregon.
After attending more than 300 town hall meetings throughout Central and Eastern Oregon and working with more than 200 county commissioners over 21 years, Wayne Kinney is retiring as a field representative for Sen. Ron Wyden.
Kinney's career is as diverse as the many problems he has helped navigate for constituents—many who don't share his Democratic Party affiliation. After growing up with Mormon roots in Massachusetts, Kinney found his way west, first moving to Utah then to Oregon. For a short time, he attended Boise State University and then Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. He became involved in the student newspaper at Lewis-Clark and eventually landed newspaper jobs in Idaho, Washington and Oregon. In Lakeview, he worked for the town's weekly newspaper. Eventually he decided to leave journalism, inquiring about job opportunities with the newly elected Wyden. Wyden had just won a close special election to replace Sen. Bob Packwood, who had resigned amid sexual harassment controversies. For months, Kinney heard nothing from the Wyden office and had accepted a position as press secretary for Mike Dugan, who was running for Congress. He got a call from Wyden's office on his second day on the job for Dugan, who was unsuccessful in his bid.
Kinney transitioned from his job as Dugan's press secretary and became Oregon's first rural field representative for a federally-elected official in June 1996. His first assignment was in La Grande. "I didn't have an office at first, but Eastern Oregon University allowed me to work out of an empty dorm room for a short while," he recalls. After successfully working on issues involving the Hanford Nuclear Plant and controversies surrounding nerve gas storage near Umatilla, Kinney transferred to Wyden's Bend field office.
After two decades of working for Wyden, Kinney says he will miss the people in Central and Eastern Oregon. He recalled the successful outcome of a dispute between a rancher in Eastern Oregon and the Bureau of Land Management. The rancher later told Kinney he never thought a Democrat would help a rancher. They became friends. "We all know it's our job to find common ground and find ways to work stuff out. When people need help with something, they aren't calling to hear a partisan pitch. In fact, most of the stuff—99 percent of the stuff I do—has no partisan edge to it."
Kinney, who also served as a vice chair for the Oregon Democratic Party and several times was a delegate to the national Democratic convention, has a lot to say about his boss. "He's a superb guy to work for," he said. Kinney says Wyden has an uncanny ability to put out fires and help find solutions.
Kinney says he is most proud of his collaboration effort that nearly led to legislation to better manage water in the Klamath Basin. He also admits it's his biggest disappointment. The legislation stalled at the 11th hour after all parties had agreed to it. He blames the breakdown not on disagreements in the Klamath basin, but rather to last minute politics in Washington, D.C. "We came so close," he says.
Upon retirement, Kinney plans to drive to Salt Lake City to meet his father. Together, they will drive home to Maine. "I'm going to miss all of it. Every bit of it. I've been out here a long time and really enjoy it. I will miss the open spaces that are not found in New England. But, I'm also looking forward to retirement and spending more time with my family."