Sprenger tells residents she’s in Salem to represent

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

State District 17 Representative Sherrie Sprenger told a gathering in Sweet Home last week that her experience as a public official in a difficult office and her constituent advocacy are good reasons to vote for her this fall.

“I have the experience, based on years of being on a school board, a tough school board,” she told about 10 people attending a community meeting at Fir Lawn Lutheran Church Thursday night.

For two years, the Lebanon School Board elected her to lead the board through tough times, she said, although that board hasn’t cleared those difficulties yet.

She represents her constituents, she said.

“I advocate with them. I represent them.” And it doesn’t matter whether she is voting as part of her state job or joining her constituents to deal with federal issues, Sprenger said.

She also will be straight with her constituents or anyone else and tell them when she disagrees, she said, which doesn’t mean she isn’t willing to work with them.

“Good compromise never leaves either side satisfied,” she said.

Those viewpoints were represented in her comments on predatory sex offenders. Among comments and questions from her audience, Margie Jones asked her whether the number of predatory sex offenders could be limited in certain areas.

Sprenger, a former sheriff’s deputy, said she recognized that these sex offenders have served time and need to be able to restart their lives along with challenges that would no doubt come from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I don’t like that answer – there’s nothing we can do about it,” she said. “We talk about rights a lot. I also have a right to feel safe. So what’s the balance? How do we get there? That’s the $64,000 question, balancing rights.”

It’s the same with the difference between child abuse and an Adult and Families Services agency that oversteps its bounds occasionally, she said. It’s a question of balance.

It carries on into issues like field burning, which often pollutes Sweet Home air during the summer, an issue raised by Joyce Gustafson during the meeting.

“I want to hear conversations,” Sprenger said. In Marion County, some conditions require field burning, while those conditions may not exist in Linn County. She awaits further information before taking a position.

Democrat and Republican candidates have both advocated harvesting timber this election year, Republicans generally for lumber and Democrats for ethanol made from wood fiber. Harvesting would provide jobs while addressing concerns about rising fuel levels in the forests and other issues.

“I’m all for opening our woods up, but we don’t get to open up federal land,” Sprenger said, but she can advocate for it. “I think we need to be cutting our timber. We need to manage our forests differently.”

She said she had spent that morning contacting Sen. Gordon Smith to advocate for a constituent at the federal level.

While constituents come to her for help, she also wants to rely on her constituents and what they’re interested in doing.

She received her first dose of humility while serving as the lone sheriff’s deputy out of John Day covering 4,500 square miles.

While there, bystanders would often offer their assistance to her, and she’d tell them she has it handled, Sprenger said. Quickly she “realized they’re all I’ve got.”

She didn’t have the luxury of using a radio to get help, she said. It was the citizens in the county that were going to be there to help her.

“Being a cop and being a legislator is not that difficult,” she said. “It’s about being in your communities and hearing what’s important in them.”

A couple of things to be watching for this year will be a Republican effort to settle the education budget by the 82nd day, giving school districts time to plan and prepare and settling more than 50 percent of the budget, which gets more politicized the longer the education budget is not set.

“In the last six months, what I’m starting to hear more of is the economy and jobs,” Sprenger said. “I wasn’t hearing that six months ago.”

That means people are “starting to feel the little slump,” she said. She calls it a “little slump” because she likes to stay positive, but it’s clear that people are concerned.

“I don’t know if there’s a good legislative fix to that. We can’t, in the Oregon Legislature, fix the economy. We need to look at where we can bring some inroads.”

One piece of legislation is pushing highway projects forward, she said. She pointed out that a number of projects appear to sit stalled while waiting for funding. While they’re waiting, environmental studies and other details go obsolete and must be redone, costing yet more money.

She suggests getting those projects moving before the studies get outdated.

John Peters told Sprenger that it seems like most lottery dollars end up going northward, to Portland.

“We’re just like a grape on the vine,” he said. “We’re left here to wither.”

Especially with gasoline prices, it makes things more difficult in places like Sweet Home, he said.

Sprenger lives on Fish Hatchery Road, nine miles from Scio, and her husband commutes more than 20 miles, so the issue weighs on her.

The Portland metro area receives many dollars for its ports, she said, but “I get a little bit cranky when the conversation is about light rail. It does us no good here.”

Interstate 5 is an interstate and should receive attention, she said. The solution is “holding your state representatives’ feet to the fire and tell them yell for me louder. We cannot sacrifice one part of our state for one pocket.”