Congressman Greg Walden's Oregon Congressional Connection
Dear fellow Oregonian,
I'm in the middle of another busy week here in the nation's capital, occupied with many committee hearings, constituent meetings, and key issues on the House floor. But I wanted to take a moment to update you on what I've been up to over these past few weeks before I return to Oregon on Friday to complete my 332nd round trip. Next week I'll be off on another extensive swing through eastern, central, and southern Oregon, which I'll update you on soon.
ON THE OREGON TRAIL
As you may remember from the last e-newsletter, I hit the road in eastern Oregon for an extensive four-day swing during the President's Day District Work Period that covered 1,124 miles. Here's a recap of those travels:
Day One - Wednesday, February 20
After a three hour drive from Hood River, I started the swing off with a tour of the Diesel Technologies Program at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton with about 20 administrators, staff, faculty, and industry folks. There's a real need for diesel technicians in the area, and the school has done a great job to fill that nitch. The program is now in the second year of a three-year Department of Labor job training investment of $1.2 million, and I was happy to see the funding being put to such good use. BMCC President John Turner and his faculty are leading a fine institution. I really think the federal investment will help ensure a well-trained workforce that's ready to help grow the economy of eastern Oregon.
Next, it was down the road to La Grande to open up the first-ever full-time Second District office in eastern Oregon. It was wonderful to see over 100 community members and leaders attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony to show their support for the office's presence in eastern Oregon. I've long wanted to open a full-time office in this part of the district, and I knew it was essential to have an eastern Oregonian with knowledge of the area's issues staff the office. After working for me for six years, first in Bend and then as my senior resources policy advisory in Washington, D.C., Colby Marshall (a Burns native) and his wife (also an eastern Oregonian) were ready to head home to the open spaces of eastern Oregon (think Blue Mountains instead of blue suits). Colby is a great fit to help the people of the area, and folks are always welcome to come visit at 1211 Washington Avenue or give a ring at (541) 624-2400 to let Colby know how I can help out.
Immediately following the reception, we rolled up our sleeves and got right to work in the new digs, testing out the videoconferencing technology that will allow us to connect my offices in Medford, Bend, Hood River, La Grande, and Washington, D.C. with each other. I met with Eastern Oregon University Interim President Dixie Lund; my senior policy staff in the nation's capital connected in via the videoconferencing system. We discussed the repositioning plan at the university, which will help ensure they continue to grow Oregon's workforce and keep good jobs on the eastern side of the state.
Then it was on to Baker City for a meeting with the Farm Bureau. Local president Peggy Browne, Oregon Farm Bureau President and American Farm Bureau Vice President Barry Bushue, and nearly 20 others shared their views on topics such as county payments, water resources, forest policy, and the farm bill. As regular readers of the newsletter know, those are top priorities of mine, and ones I'm working with my colleagues to make headway on in Congress.
Day Two - Thursday, February 21
The day started with a really fun stop at Vale Elementary School in Malheur County to take a look at a neat pilot computer initiative. Students there are able to download assignments and projects, complete the work, and then the teachers can access the information and assign a grade all with no paper exchanged. The school is really doing a good job of preparing these students with the technological skills they'll need for the 21st century. Principal Darlene McConnell (who is a former high school classmate of mine) and Vale School District Superintendent are doing great work and really dedicated to the youth of the area.
Following the classroom visit, I presented new Eagle Scout Collin Peterson with a flag flown over the Capitol. As an Eagle Scout myself, I know how much work is required and I always like to be able to express my congratulations personally.
The next stop was at another school, this time in Prairie City, where I met with about two dozen leaders from all around Grant County for what turned into an impromptu town hall. We talked a lot about the resource issues that affect the area, and how important healthy forests are to the economy and environment of rural Oregon. Afterward, I visited a classroom at Prairie City School to discuss my job as congressman.
The day's travels ended with a dinner with Harney County Judge Steve Grasty and Commissioner Dan Nichols in Burns. The theme of the meeting echoed what I had been hearing for much of the swing; frustrations with federal land policy, from county payments to public access to wildfire prevention and response. I share in their frustration. I've been working hard with Congressman Peter DeFazio and a bipartisan group of rural representatives to provide a long-term extension of county payments, and I've worked closely with Washington Congressman Brian Baird to identify ways to fix federal forest policy to create healthier conditions in our national forests. But much work remains on all of these fronts.
Day Three - Friday, February 22
As you may remember, southeast Oregon was hit hard by wildfire this past year, and that dominated the talk of a roundtable I organized in Burns among ranching and farming groups and representatives from the county, the state, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, and other federal agencies. When I visited Burns shortly after the Egley Complex fires began last year, the residents in the area were pretty darn frank with me about how frustrated they were with the communication from federal agencies during the crisis. At this meeting, I was able to get the agencies to commit to training a group of local folks to work with fire command teams before the next fire season to try to prevent such a breakdown. Those present at the meeting also told me about the need to conduct after-fire assessments. It was a positive working meeting with over 50 people, and hopefully the groundwork we laid can help avoid similar problems in the future.
Our last stop in Burns was a meeting with the High Desert Partnership (HDP), a coalition of ranchers, agency officials, local government leaders, and environmental groups to develop sustainable ecological, economic, and social policies for the Harney Basin. They're doing good, proactive work to avoid conflict in that part of the state.
After another long stretch of road, I arrived at the North Lake Medical Center in Christmas Valley in Lake County to tour the new facility, which is a real asset to that community. The clinic's completion in October 2007 was the culmination of over 20 years of work to develop a new clinic in this rural, medically-underserved community. As a member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has jurisdiction over health care policy, and co-chair of the bipartisan House Rural Health Care Coalition, quality access to rural health care continues to be one of my top priorities. I also received a briefing on the current status of the Over-the Horizon-Backscatter radar facility in Christmas Valley. We hope to convert this old military radar facility into a modern renewable energy site utilizing the power transmission lines that used to serve the radar transmitters to bring green power back to the grid.
Day Four - Saturday, February 23
On Saturday morning, I headed out to Liskey Farms in Klamath Falls to learn how they're using geothermal energy to power a new biodiesel production unit, raise tropical fish, plants, insects and soon produce electricity. Engineering and marketing students from the nearby Oregon Institute of Technology joined me, and we talked at length about the important role of renewables in America's smarter energy future. I've been telling my colleagues on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming about the exciting and unique energy projects in the Northwest. Last year, I helped secure $500,000 for the OIT's new Geo-Heat Center, and found out at my visit to Liskey Farms that there is 199-degree water just 18 feet below the surface that is capable of running a 10 megawatt power plant.
The last stop was in Gilchrist at the Interfor Pacific mill. The Klamath County mill is very dependent on federal timber sales and finding adequate supply is often a serious problem. Between the downturn in the housing market and a limited supply of timber, the workers at the mill have suffered weeks of layoffs. In fact the day I was there, was the last day of operations for the month. After the tour of the mill, I spoke to a crew of about 100 workers, and I told them that federal forest policy needs to change. The current policy puts mills out of business, can bankrupt small communities, and leaves Oregon's future with a legacy of choked, unhealthy forests or, even worse and increasingly all-too-common, burned dead forests. It makes no sense. We need to get our over-grown forests back in balance and doing so will produce domestic jobs and wood products.
Southern Oregon Meth Project
After returning from Washington, D.C. for another week of legislative business, I was in Klamath Falls on Monday, March 3 for the Southern Oregon Meth Project forums to educate middle and high school students and the community at large on the dangers of meth use. In the afternoon, the students heard from some experts with first-hand experience about just how damaging meth is.
Later that night, the message was drilled home to parents and others in a separate session. Several hundred people attended each forum. These kinds of gatherings always deliver an important message: meth lays waste to individuals, families, and communities alike. I've held many similar town halls in the past across the district, and was pleased to participate in this one, as well.
There are signs we may be getting a better handle on the epidemic, partly thanks to aggressive federal, state and local initiatives to curb the production and use of this poison. But make no mistake, more needs to be done to not only prevent meth use, but also to rehabilitate those caught in its grip, and prosecute those providing the dangerous drug to our communities.
You may remember in the last newsletter that I expressed my frustration that the House majority leadership had refused to allow the House to vote on the bipartisan Protect America Act, which passed the Senate with 68 votes.
The bill is a critical anti-terror law that closes loopholes in our intelligence laws and protects our civil liberties. The President and the Senate leadership are on the same page and the bill could become law if the House leadership would schedule it for a vote.
Thursday night, the House convened a rare, secret session the first since 1983 to discuss the threats to our country and the reasons behind why the provisions contained in the Senate measure are so very important to protecting our country from attack. We started that secret session at 10:15 p.m. and the discussion lasted an hour.
While obviously I cannot discuss what was said, I can tell you what I learned made me more convinced than ever of the importance of renewing the foreign surveillance program as envisioned by the Senate.
Unfortunately, on Friday the House was again denied the opportunity to vote on the Senate measure and instead the majority approved a bill that, in my opinion, leaves our country unnecessarily vulnerable.
Meanwhile, as Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell wrote, "without the act in place, vital programs would be plunged into uncertainty and delay, and capabilities would continue to decline." It's been a month since the law expired, and the threat to our country remains.
In other news
As a member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, we've reviewed some interesting topics in the last couple weeks, including food safety and sustainability, wireless consumer protection, climate change in developing countries, the renewable energy economy (which we know much about in the Northwest), nuclear power, and fuel pipeline safety. Thankfully, we have held no new hearings on Roger Clemens.
A steady stream of people from the Second District continues to come through Washington. I met with people from Nyssa, The Dalles, La Grande, Klamath Falls, Baker City, Medford, Hood River, Vale, Bend, Ashland, Pendleton, Boardman, John Day, Sisters, Jacksonville, Redmond, Burns, and Grants Pass.
This week I received a special honor from the National Association of Community Health Centers. They named me a "Distinguished Community Health Superhero" (no, there's no cape with the award) for 2008. Last year, the same group honored me with the "Community Health Defender" award. I continue my work to address the unique challenges of delivering quality health care to rural Oregonians. The system of community health centers and clinics across our district provide essential and timely access to health care for thousands of our neighbors. I'm continuing to work with them and the home health care folks and other providers to make sure people who need care get it in a timely and affordable manner.
I also met with Governor Ted Kulongoski who was in town recently to brief our delegation on his priorities, which included extending the county timber payments program and some enhancements for the Oregon National Guard's mission and resources, among other things.
I addressed the gathering of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, where I pointed out how important the Columbia River deepening project is to the economy of the Northwest and we discussed the problems related to the damage to the lock at John Day Dam. Keeping commerce flowing on the Columbia is essential for our economy in the Northwest.
A lot of local associations visited the Capitol over the last few weeks. I hosted county commissioners from across Oregon for breakfast during last week's National Association of Counties meeting in the nation's capital. As you might expect, county payments dominated the discussion and Oregon's commissioners hit the halls of Congress hard to press our case to members across the country.
The League of Oregon Cities and the Oregon Community Colleges representatives were back talking about ways to strengthen the partnership between cities and the federal government, and the importance of job training and education for our workforce.
In all, I had over 90 meetings and hearings on my schedule during the last two weeks here in the nation's capital. I'll spend Saturday in Heppner, then home on Sunday before hitting the road again next week to visit Umatilla, Morrow, Crook, Deschutes, Jackson, and Josephine counties to focus largely on health care, economic and workforce development and other issues important to district, state and nation as I continue my regular visits throughout the 20 counties in our vast district.
Until the next newsletter, you can refer to the Library of Congress website here for more information on what's happening in Congress. You can always reach me through my website or by contacting any of my offices in Oregon or Washington, D.C. If you would like to unsubscribe from this mailing, simply reply and type the word "unsubscribe" in the subject box.
Member of Congress