New senator outlines plans for county

Scott Swanson

Newly elected State Sen. Cedric Hayden is chomping on an apple when a visitor walks into his office at the Oregon State Capitol.

It’s lunchtime and the senator’s taking a break before heading into an afternoon committee meeting.

He’s a few weeks into his term as east Linn County’s state senator, replacing Fred Girod, whose 9th District boundary is now close to Highway. 22.

Hayden, 55, was elected in November to represent the 6th Senate District, which stretches roughly from Scio and Jefferson on the north to the territory just east of Rice Hill on the south, its largest communities being Lebanon, Sweet Home and Cottage Grove.

Though he’s new to east Linn County, Hayden isn’t new to the Legislature. He was elected as House District 7 representative in 2014 and served four terms until he decided to run for the newly redrawn 6th District last year.

He’s a dentist who, when he’s not serving in the Legislature, conducts a hospital-based dental practice treating special-needs patients. He also owns and operates a heavy equipment/construction/logging firm specializing in wildland fires, has operated a charter air service based in Creswell, and he and his wife Julie and five children have operated a horse and cattle ranch in Fall Creek where he breeds quarter horses.

Experience he’s gained, literally from a lifetime in public health, gives him a wealth of hands-on knowledge of public health, one of his chief interests, to the Legislature, where he is vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Health Care.

Deep Roots in Oregon, Public Service

Hayden grew up in Fall Creek in a sixth-generation “covered wagon family” with deep Oregon roots. His great-grandmother was the first female mayor of Burns.

His parents were strong believers in public service and his father, also a dentist – as well as an anesthesiologist, practiced public health dentistry around the world in third-world nations. Hayden’s next-older brother (of four) was born in Trinidad and Tobago.

When Hayden’s arrival came, in 1968, his parents “were worried about the health care there, so for the next kid, which was me, that came along, they came back to the U.S.”

“We were in the States six months out of every year, growing up,” he said, noting that his family spent the remainder of the time “all over the world” as his father provided “charity dental care in different locations.”

“I grew up in that environment.”

Hayden and four of his brothers became dentists – his other brother is an emergency room doctor – all paying their own way through school. His sister is a dental hygienist.

To earn money for school, he spent summers in high school and college fighting wildfires, first digging fire trail and then, when he turned 18, working on the fire lines.

“I was on the hand crew to fight wildfires, which would be significantly different then than they do now. We actually fought wildfires and now we observe wildfires. Things are different.”

Hayden graduated in 1994 from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry after doing his undergraduate work at Walla Walla University in Washington, and joined the family dental practice.

It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that Hayden is challenge-driven.

Between 2001 and 2007, according to his legislative website, he climbed the “Seven Summits” – the world’s tallest peak on each of the seven continents, and the “Grand Slam” by skiing to the North and South Poles.

Statewide and International Dental Outreach

Following his graduation from dental school, he and his three brothers who had pursued dentistry created Oregon’s first statewide oral health network, serving 35 of the 36 counties in the state.

“My dad did mostly emergency (dentistry) – what they called “welfare” at that time – they have different names for it now. My brothers and I wanted to continue that concept. And so the Oregon Health Plan was just kind of changing there from welfare to the Oregon Health Plan or what they call DMAP; different names, same programs, and then the Affordable Care Act came along in in that process and created CCOs and dental care organizations and what-not.

“So my brothers and I had a dental care organization that provided dental services across the state through a network of clinics.”

In 2007, with his brother Matthew J. Hayden and sister-in-law, Cedric Hayden and Julie, his wife, founded Caring Hands Worldwide, an international nonprofit public health charity for uninsured and impoverished patients. Their efforts expanded to running pro bono mobile dental clinics in rural Oregon, as well as Micronesia in the South Pacific, Zambia, Africa, and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

The family’s dental work led him into both construction and politics, he said.

He and his brothers formed a construction company to build their own dental clinics, and that led to other jobs in dental clinic facility construction.

Entering Politics

Hayden’s introduction to the political world came when his group tried to establish a clinic in Oakridge, Hayden said, adding that the town seemed like a good location for what they were trying to do: “kind of a depressed economy, a rural economy that used to be dependent on logging.”

“We were doing this internationally. We said, ‘Why don’t we do this at home?'”

Oakridge city staff wouldn’t give them a building permit, he said.

“I appealed three times. I said, ‘OK, I’ll try Springfield. Same story. ‘We don’t want you here.’

“I’m stubborn. After all that effort, I didn’t realize how politics worked. So I said, ‘Well, I’m gonna call up my state representative.'”

That was Bruce Hanna, who then represented House District 7.

During his years in dentistry Hayden had been serving on state dental advisory panels and Hanna slightly, having served on a board with him.

“I said, ‘What’s the process?'”

He said Hanna suggested he run for the District 7 seat that Hanna was vacating.

“I thought running for the Legislature might be interesting, with my background.”

So he ran in 2014 and won.

“Of course, I explained the problem to my colleagues (in the Legislature) and we passed a law that, then, our mobile clinics could go out and provide services and they still do that today and we don’t we don’t get hassled.

“So that was kind of a niche issue that got me interested. But I had already been kind of doing the policy part of it. So it was just an extension of what I’d already been doing for the last 15 years in public health or state and federally funded health.

“Now I have the opportunity to be the vice chair of health care, along with some other committees and I had continued in that role in four terms in the House.”

Fire-Focused Logging

During his time in the Legislature, Hayden has continued to operate his logging/construction company year-round. He typically runs four or five low-boys, with six full-time operators, but those employee numbers typically double during fire season, when his company operates throughout the West.

“It’s usually Oregon, Washington, California, sometimes Idaho. We’ve been out to Utah and a few other states, but not very often. And then those sometimes work into winter work, where we’re actually doing a cleanup or repair, suppression repair for active wildfire or doing preparation to defend against future wildfires. We pretty much build fire line year round, whether it’s in an active fire or after an active fire or in anticipation of an area having an active fire.”

He runs two sides for ground-based logging, Hayden said – “two skidders, two log loaders, two feller-bunchers, two processors. Basically, we’re set up to log in two different areas at the same time.”

New Seat in Senate

When redistricting came along, in 2021, Hayden decided to take a shot at the District 6 Senate seat, which was being vacated by Lee Beyer.

He’d backed away from much of his dental activity, confining his practice to hospital work “where I will continue to provide that higher level of care that’s needed.”

In his new Senate seat, Hayden says not much has changed in his approach to his legislative duties.

“It’s just kind of a natural transition,” he said. “I didn’t have any burning desire to be on the Senate side versus the House side. I’ve been here a couple of weeks on the Senate side and it all seems the same to me.”

Actually, he said, there is one difference: the volume of bills, since the House has 60 representatives and 30 senators, all introducing bills.

“There’s at least twice as many bills over there,” Hayden said. “So it’s a little less volume, a little more focus on the issues that come before the committee without, I guess, the side chatter.”

Property Tax Freeze For Seniors

One of the approximately two dozen bills he’s backing thus far, which Hayden considers “a main priority” in this long session, is a proposed constitutionally mandated property tax freeze for seniors, Senate Joint Resolution 8.

SJR8 proposes amending the Oregon Constitution to direct the Legislature to enact property tax relief program for owner-occupied primary residences of certain seniors 65 years old or more. The resolution would refers proposed amendment to voters for their approval or rejection in the next regular general election.

Hayden said proponents of the idea are giving the Legislature the chance to send the proposal to voters. If not, he said, they can opt for the initiative process.

“If my colleagues voted for the concept of saying, ‘Hey voters, do you think seniors should have some relief from their property tax?’ The legislature could send that to the voters without all the hoopla, right?

He said advocates are “going through the process” of preparing for an initiative effort by getting a ballot title for the measure approved.

“Basically,” he said, the issue is “if you’re a senior in your home, you would still have to pay property tax, but it wouldn’t increase.

“As inflation and home values and things are going crazy, seniors, generally, you know, and I know there’s exceptions to everything, but generally they’re on fixed incomes. Their income doesn’t fluctuate with those types of things. So we want to stabilize that.”

Advocating for Healthcare

As vice chair of the Health Care Committee, he said, “I spend a lot of time behind the scenes, so to speak, working on policy that we want to make sure we can protect our constituents’ abilities to continue to have their commercial health care insurance – not to create additional barriers and keep them from the health care providers that they’re accustomed to going to.”

He noted a “big shift” in Oregon to have health care paid for by private rather than state or federal funding, “and there’s not a lot of watchdogs on that.”

“When they do that, they shift that and make those as affordable as possible and the state wants to pay as little as possible for that,” which, he said, results in more costs for consumers.

Such issues can’t necessarily be solved simply by a new law, Hayden said.

“It’s a process. I spend a lot of my time in that process.”

Restoring School Hours for Special Needs

Another bill for which Hayden is a chief sponsor codifies abbreviated school day program requirements for special-needs students whose classroom hours were cut during the COVID pandemic and have not, he said, been restored.

SB 819 would require that a parent or foster advocate must give informed and written consent for student to be placed in an abbreviated school day program.

Hayden said he’s working with Sen. Sara Gelser-Blouin, D-Corvallis, “across the aisle,” on that one “to say, ‘Hey, no, we’ve got, you know, there are some parents that need that and you can’t just say, “Well, you know, we’ll take the two or three or four times the payment that we get for the student and give them a quarter of the hours.” We’re not gonna let you do that.’ Technically, they’re not allowed to do it now. But they do it.”

He added that his 25 years of work with special-needs patients in hospitals has made him more aware of these situations.

Helping ABLE Investors

Hayden has also teamed up with Gelser-Blouin to introduce a bill, SB 571, which would require employers to offer contributions to ABLE Savings Plan accounts in lieu of contributions to employees’ retirement accounts.

ABLE accounts allow people who are disabled to invest, tax-free, up to $100,000 in the ABLE program without it counting against their disability payments. The money can be used for living expenses, education, transportation, housing, healthcare and more.

“The lie used to be that they could only have $2,000 in the bank or else they would lose services that they need,” Hayden said of the disabled population. “And so what would happen is families would shift that all away. Some (disabled people) can have jobs and can function well with that, but they couldn’t have a job and have their benefits. They have to have health care, right? So there’s a group of people that work very hard to make sure that they have those benefits.”

Dental Care Provider Incentives and More

Another Hayden bill, SB 441, would create a dental care provider incentive program within the Oregon Health Authority to increase recruitment and retention of dental care providers.

“We have workforce issues in healthcare, particularly in rural areas and oral health and dentists,:” Hayden said.

“There’s a workforce shortage across the board, and there’s a particular lack of ability for people to get in for oral health care. And so we’re working with the Oregon Dental Association, in collaboration with them to drive some of the workforce dollars that we’re already spending to focus on the area of oral health.

Other bills he’s working on or interested in seeing passed include a $1,000 child care tax credit for qualified child care, an effort to ensure that small businesses and personal income tax rates do not exceed those of large corporations, a grant program to fund “recycling innovation.”

Hearing From Constituents

Hayden said that since he arrived in Salem in 2014, his priority has been to spend time with constituents, preferably in person, to hear about their concerns. COVID made that difficult, he said.

“It was a really different feel from serving nearly six years with, really, our office focus was that ‘we’re there for the constituents.’ You want to come, you’re a priority. If a lobbyist wants to talk to us, if an agency wants to talk to us, they’re going to wait in line. We’re going to talk to constituents first.”

He said the legislative process was “very difficult” during COVID, particularly with Democrats holding a super majority in both houses of the Legislature.

“I felt shut down in negotiation, in conversation about policies,” Hayden said. “One, they didn’t have to talk to us – you’re under a super minority, right? And then, you put COVID on top of it and it was more difficult. They kind of just did what they wanted and with no input, not just from the public, which is extremely important, but really with no input from the other side of the aisle.”

He said he recognizes that it’s difficult for constituents to get to Salem to advocate for their concerns, but he said he prefers that over phone calls or Zoom meetings, which are “hard.”

“If you sit down and have papers and have a conversation about it, that’s my preference. I enjoy that.”

He said he’s happy to receive “individual” emails from constituents, but his office can get “literally four to 5,000 emails on a hot topic in a day.”

“Our office policy is that we answer the phone live and we respond to every individual email. Now, if it comes in a bulk, you know, from the same IP address as 50,000 emails, we see that. So we’re not going to write an individual response to bulk (emails). But if it’s an individual, we really strive to respond to each one.”

With a limited staff – Hayden only has a budget for one full-time assistant, so he employs a couple of Willamette University law students part-time, he said, “sometimes it can take a week or two” to respond.

He prefers to do it in-person, he said.

“My message to constituents is just the age-old philosophy of ‘if you get to the table, you’ve got a say.

“It’s really important for them to come and testify on bills and share their story and why this affects their lives as they want to live.

“Most rural folks, it’s not that they want to engage in politics. Most of them are folks who just want to be left alone. I totally get that. But sometimes, to be left alone you have to come and share that you want to be left alone.”