End of session update… a bit late

Hello all,

Having decompressed from what was a long and exhausting legislative session, I thought I’d share a little bit of what I wrote in my final report to Sea Grant. It gives a (relatively) brief overview of what was a long and, at times, stressful six months of my life.

I will break it up into chunks, so as not to bore you with a block of text. Without further ado, what follows is a brief introduction to the Oregon Legislature:

Never in a million years did I imagine I would ever be working in politics. Yet when I applied for the Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellowship, I had no idea how deeply immersed I would become in Oregon politics generally, and coastal Oregon politics specifically. It certainly has been an experience I will carry with me, and put lessons learned to use, for the rest of my life. What follows is my report on the 2011 legislative session through the eyes of the Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellow.

The Legislature

To begin, it is worth mentioning the unique political climate that existed in Salem during the 2011 session. While the Senate was narrowly controlled by Democrats (by a 16-14 majority) he House of Representatives was split evenly (30-30) between Republicans and Democrats, something that had never happened before. Much of January was spent determining how business of the House would be conducted. Every House committee would have a Republican and Democrat co-chair, who would each need to agree to hear a bill in committee. There would be a Republican and Democrat co-Speaker of the House, who would alternate days presiding over floor sessions.

Needless to say, in order for a bill to pass the House, it had to have bipartisan support. While theoretically this created an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to work together to solve Oregon’s problems, in practice it made it all too easy for one party, or even one member, to kill a bill that they didn’t want to see passed.

The Coastal Caucus

Operating as usual in this unique environment was the Oregon Coastal Caucus, which the Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellow is assigned to support. A bipartisan and bicameral group of legislators, the Coastal Caucus is unique in Oregon politics. It consists of the Senators and Representatives from coastal districts, as well as the Senator from the Klamath basin (due to the region’s dependence on salmon and other oceangoing fish). The members are, for the most part, long-serving; all are in at least their third term. For the 2011 legislative session, the Coastal Caucus consisted of: Rep Cowan (chair), Rep Krieger, Rep Boone, Rep Witt, Rep Roblan, Sen Verger, Sen Johnson, Sen Kruse and Sen Whitsett.

The group meets weekly during session, for an hour in the morning, to discuss issues of concern. The Coastal Caucus operates on a consensus-only basis: if they have consensus on an issue, they weigh in on it. If even one member disagrees with the group, no action is taken. There is a sense among members that the coast is often overlooked in Oregon politics, and they feel strongly that it is their duty to protect their constituents. While there are both Republicans and Democrats representing coastal Oregon, party lines are often blurred, and issues stretch across individual districts.

Because of the composition of the group, they are able to have tremendous influence on issues that they choose to weigh in on. In an evenly divided House of Representatives, that influence should have been even stronger. 

Update #2 from the Oregon Capitol!

June 17, 2011

I’d like to give everyone a brief update of my Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellowship, now that the 2011 Legislative session appears to be winding down. It covers the period from April 26, 2011 to June 16, 2011.

Things have been in a pretty constant state of flux since the last update I provided. The main focus of my efforts has been HB 2009, which would implement a series of marine reserves, is currently locked in end-of-session negotiations. Essentially, the bill is being used as a bargaining chip between legislators in various leadership positions. It remains to be seen whether the bill will pass this legislative session.

A bill of particular concern to the Coastal Caucus, SB 736, was left to be debated in the next session. The bill would have banned gillnetting on the lower Columbia River, essentially ending the livelihoods of many fishermen on Oregon’s coast.

My primary duties to this point have included:

• Planning and organizing weekly Coastal Caucus meetings, including generating topics of discussion, arranging invited guests, and preparing agendas.

• Participating in a discussion with representatives from state agencies, the governor’s office, and interested stakeholders re: how to proceed with implementing marine reserves if HB 2009 does not pass this session.

• Collaborating with lobbyists and interested stakeholders to ensure that Oregon’s commercial fishermen continue to have a viable livelihood.

• Facilitating smooth and open lines of communication among members of the Coastal Caucus, to make sure that they stay apprised of issues that may be of concern to them as a group.

All in all, it has been a tremendous experience so far, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity provided to me!

Greetings from the Oregon Capitol!

Hi all,

My name is Zack Reeves and I’m currently the Oregon Sea Grant Legislative Fellow. I’ve never blogged before (technology these days!), but it should be fun. I’ll post a more detailed update later in the week, to give a rundown of what has happened this session. It’s been an interesting six months, to say the least.

Goodbye for now.