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Wallowa County Chieftain - Sen. Gordon Smith Brings Campaign to Wallowa County

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Wallowa County Chieftain - Sen. Gordon Smith Brings Campaign to Wallowa County

Elane Dickenson

U.S. Senator Gordon Smith told a gathering of about 30 Wallowa County residents that, every time he votes or takes a stand on an issue in Washington, D.C., he knows he'll come home and "get hammered' by about 50 percent of Oregonians for his choice.

Even so, Smith takes representing Oregon "as a high honor" and deliberates carefully on every decision. "If I believe in what I conclude, I can come home and defend it in Wallowa County and in Multnomah County," he said.

Smith, a Republican from Pendleton who is running for his third six-year term in the U.S. Senate, squeezed a last-minute visit to Wallowa County out of his tight campaign schedule last week at the request of Wallowa County's Republican party chairman, Susan Roberts.

"We're so happy he's our senator and we want to keep it that way," Roberts said in introducing Smith.

"There's no place in Oregon I'd rather be," said Smith. He recalled knocking on doors during his first campaign for the state legislature 17 years ago and concluding that Wallowa County had the friendliest people in the district.

Smith spent almost two hours fielding questions at the Republican headquarters on River Street in Enterprise about issues, ranging from energy policy to natural resource management to the war in Iraq.

"I really feel a sense of calling in bridging the urban-rural divide," Smith said, noting that the last time Oregon had a U.S. senator from the eastern side of the state was 1938. "I'm in the fight of my life, and I want to hold onto that representation."

Smith said he knows that if he sticks by those who stick by the land, everything will be okay. "I want the people that count on natural resources to count on me. That's where my heart is."

Smith is facing Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley in the upcoming election. He said Merkley is proud of the controversial ethics bill that recently caused many city officials in rural communities to resign rather than fill out a financial disclosure form they felt invasive. "Are you going to hold that against him? I hope so," Smith said.

The senator praised Republican vice-presidential choice Sarah Palin, calling her "the freshest breath of air I've ever seen on the national scene."

Smith said he is a strong advocate of the development of all kinds of energy, both "the old kind" and all alternate sources, such as solar, wind and waves - but warned that there is a downside to every source. Hydroelectric dams, he said, are "the Northwest's ace in the hole," and he opposes moves to remove any of them. "I will be on the dam, chained to it when they go to blow it up," he said.

Smith ended up voting for the controversial natural gas line in Oregon because, "We need the energy," he said, "but we have to be really careful on safety."

Smith defended a vote against drilling for oil in Alaska's Artic National Wildlife Refuge, saying that he was trying to represent the feelings of Oregonians, which he feels may be changing.

"Not now, but not never," Smith said, describing his policy, adding that ANWR may prove to be the United States most important oil reserve for the future.

Smith's hardest work, he said, has been invested in the Secure Rural Schools legislation that has helped finance schools and counties in lieu of traditional forest receipts. He said some legislators from other states who formerly supported the bill's extension are now objecting to the formula in which half of the money goes to Oregon because "God put half of the trees in Oregon." Therefore, Smith concluded, a four-year extension of the county payments bill would cut Oregon's share by 60 percent.

"We've got to grow our economy ... the old fashioned way," said Smith, who favors increased forest management and logging "consistent with environmental laws."

Smith is aware that he angered many voters when he turned against the war in Iraq, but he feels the conflict has been badly mishandled.

"The U.S. military has won all it can in Iraq, and Iraq has to win the peace," he said.

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