Girod, Cate host SH town hall

Benny Westcott

Republican State Senator Fred Girod (District 9, Stayton), and Representative Jami Cate (District 17, Lebanon) held a discussion with a few dozen Sweet Home residents on Weddle Bridge Saturday, Aug. 7, as part of a town-hall schedule that saw the legislators stopping in Mill City, Lebanon and Stayton as well over a two-day period.

The morning was sunny and comfortable.

“If every district had such an incredible spot to come and host a town hall, this would be a better state,” Cate said, “because it’s hard to get lost in all the negativity when you have something so beautiful.”

Girod stressed the town hall’s importance to briefly unplug from the Salem scene and plug back into the community he represents.

“We wanted to go on a tour, to get feedback,” he said. “We live in an echo chamber at the Legislature. So sometimes we need to get grounded. Portland and Eugene dominate what happens. We hear that over and over again.”

Cate echoed that sentiment.

“When you’re up in Salem for six months and living in that environment of all politics all the time, and such extremes of the conservatives versus the liberals,” she said. “it’s necessary to get grounded back to what is in the hearts of our community. And that’s why we’re here today.”

Talk turned early to attempts to secure more street crossings in Sweet Home.

Girod said he was waiting for a priority list regarding crosswalks from the city before going to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

“The ball’s kind of in your court a little bit for the priority list,” he said.

Cate discussed the difficulty of working with the agency on such issues.

“We all dread ODOT the worst,” she said. “They are literally in the highway business, and their outlook is that your community is your problem if their highway doesn’t work for you. And that’s really difficult to work with, especially with an agency that has the power.”

Girod segued into what he viewed as overreach among state organizations in general.

He said that with a governor (Kate Brown) that is “totally out of touch,” plus Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate, “agencies run amuck.”

“It’s not just ODOT,” he said. “I think the [Oregon] Health Authority is even worse than ODOT. Just because I don’t believe a word that comes out of their mouth. I just don’t.”

He said Brown’s lack of popularity gives Republicans some chances in upcoming legislative elections.

“Right now the governor is so darn unpopular that we have an opening,” he said.

He also mentioned some strategies for loosening the grip of what he sees as Democratic control in the state’s government.

“We have to change the numbers,” he said. “Right now it’s 18 to 12 in the Senate, and if we could get to ‘even,’ that would really change the balance of power.”

“If you want to help, the city of Salem is going to be the battleground in the next election cycle,” he told the attendees. “There will probably be three contested seats in that region, that will probably determine a good deal of the Senate. That’s how we’re going to take it back. As long as Portland and Eugene dominate, we’re going to suffer.

“We suffer with timber policy, which bothers me more than anything,” he noted, mentioning how his home near Mill City burned down last summer due to what he views as failing timber policy.

“The [2020] Beachie Creek Fire shouldn’t have been allowed to burn for a month,” Girod said. “They should have put the damn thing out. But, no, they didn’t do that. I’m really pretty bitter about that.”

Cate expressed her own frustration about what she perceived as an imbalance of power in Salem.

“I think it’s sad that we live in such a Democrat supermajority-controlled state that it’s taken for granted that the government doesn’t need to work for the people,” she said. “But our government is supposed to be the representation of the people coming together and working to best move our communities forward, to regulate so our rights aren’t infringed by one another.

“Ultimately, you are our bosses,” she added. “And so much of our government is forgetting that because they have too much power. They can take for granted the voice of the people. They don’t have to listen to you; they don’t have to work with us.”

She targeted resentment not on individuals, but on the system as a whole. “I don’t regard any Democrat as my enemy. I regard the imbalance as our enemy,” she said.

She stressed the importance of community engagement to fix that.

“Fred and I are very fortunate to live in very safe districts, but that doesn’t mean we should rest on our laurels,” she said. “That does not put our communities off the hook for doing their part to help us advance the Republican party to try to win balance back.

“It’s hard, because so many of our safest districts are the districts that don’t want to contribute through donations and contributions to campaigns. They don’t want to be out helping us flip swing seats and do that hard work,” she said. “The best way to help us is usually to help other seats be successful.

“We will be able to serve you better if our numbers are better. And we want to be able to put your dollars and your efforts into the places that are going to stand to make the most difference,” she added.

Girod also favors his district’s constituents putting time and effort toward moving the needle in other districts’ elections. In the last one, he said, he spent only $750 of the nearly $2 million he raised on his own campaign. Instead, he spent the money on the coast, which he said is trending Republican, as well as on Salem and Bend.

“The swing districts, I have to tell you, don’t think necessarily the same way we do here,” he said. “They’re a lot more moderate. So to a certain extent, we have to embrace that part of the party in those areas so we can get our numbers up. If we get our numbers up, then we have a lot of say, and we’re pretty united once we get into the building.”

Both speakers also noted that the state’s redistricting will be vital in any effort to restore power balance. The state’s districts are redrawn every 10 years and will be adjusted this fall.

“These lines and maps are really boring for most of the public, but they are hugely important,” Cate said.

Before the lines were redrawn 10 years ago, she noted, Democrats and Republicans were tied 30-30 in the House.

“But the Republicans at that time did not do a good job of fighting for fair lines,” she said. “Instead, there was a lot that sought for their own safety and allowed their district to be what they wanted, and sold out the greater good of Ore-gon, unfortunately. Now we have lines that are very, very gerrymandered, and are drawn to give the advantage to the Democrats.”

She said that after just one election cycle, when the lines were redrawn, the Republicans lost four seats.

“So this year is not about necessarily getting the best policy for us. It’s about giving us the best shot at redistricting to try to get better representation for all of you. Because that is really and truly the crux of the issue,” she said.

Cate noted that the redistricting committees will be visiting communities in a “road show.” The representatives will be sharing those schedules via their social media platforms and other forms of communication.

Near the end of the hour and a half, both legislators expressed their support of “parent choice” regarding COVID-19 school policy.

“We believe in parent choice and local control, and being able to have our districts be nimble to address and best balance risks, based on what they are seeing in their kids,” Cate said.

“The risks to our kids are not just COVID,” she continued. “And that is what we have tried to keep stressing. We have to have a balanced system that keeps all of those risks in mind. Maybe kids are in an abusive environment at home, and now there’s not that sense of accountability from going to school to have their bruises noticed.”

She expressed disapproval at how school policy has been handled.

“It’s so frustrating for us that so much of the solution has been to keep lowering the expectations for kids,” she said. “We are going to keep fighting to raise them back up and get our kids back on track, because they deserve it.”

One citizen in attendance asked about the integrity of elections, after saying, “There are areas of Oregon that you would say are Republican that have evidence of rampant fraud.”

He asked the legislators, “How do we know we don’t have the numbers if we’re not auditing?”

“I would love to tell you that there’s good news,” Girod replied. “But in the past week we passed a bill that is going to make it even worse. What we passed was a bill that has to do with mail-in ballots. Now you can mail in a ballot the very last day, and they will count it up to seven days after the election, and it doesn’t have to have a postmark.”

Cate added that the bill will “take away secrecy envelopes and all sorts of stuff.”

Girod continued by saying that “they can precount before the election comes up, which should be a big no-no too.”

“Our voting system is riddled with problems,” Cate stated. “The democrats fight tooth and nail to not let us have those accountabilities. It comes back to balance. If we want to see more accountability in our voting system, we have to have the balance to be able to push that legislation through.”

However, she then defended the validity of Oregon elections.

“As much as it seems like voting fraud is rampant and you hear bits and pieces that make you really question, if you really go into a lot of our county clerks’ offices and watch their procedures while they are counting, there is so much integrity in the vast majority of them,” she noted. “Maybe Portland is a different story, but we already know Portland is going to be a lost cause when it comes to securing ballots again in our Legislature.”

“So we’re trying to keep our eye on the ball of fighting the fights that need to be fought,” she said. “And hopefully when we win those we can start addressing some of these other issues.”