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Candidate Roundtable: State House District 56,  Gail Whitsett and Tracey Liskey

Tribal relationships and rural issues among top priorities

by SAMANTHA TIPLER, Herald and News 4/1/12

Tribal relations, rural issues and the state budget were all a part of a roundtable conversation with Oregon House District 56 candidates Tracey Liskey and Gail Whitsett last week. The candidates spoke with community representatives from various organizations during the meeting at the Herald and News Wednesday.

GeorGene Nelson, Klamath Tribal Council member, asked the candidates their opinions of and experiences with working with sovereign tribes like the Klamath Tribes, specifically how they would work as a state representative to support bills for the Tribes.

Whitsett: “As a representative I would be working with them just like a U.S. citizen to a tribal nation,” Whitsett said.

She said she recognizes the Tribes’ sovereignty, and embraced them as part of the local economy and cultural history.

“The 3,600 members of Klamath Tribes, we owe our respect to them and need to work with them, willing to do whatever is necessary in legislation,” she said.

Liskey: “We have to work together, and have to deal with a lot of these issues here in our Basin that divide our Basin,” Liskey said. “The more we can work together as a team, the more we can get done and produce good things for the whole district — Tribes and us.”

He agreed the Tribes are a sovereign nation, and said as a representative he would interact with them similarly to his interactions with the federal government.

“We really need to continue on that effort of working together to find the best for both and coming to be one family instead of two,” he said.

Heidi Wright, publisher of the Herald and News, asked Liskey and Whitsett their thoughts about the Mazama Tree Farm purchase by the Tribes and its role in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

Whitsett: Whitsett wants to ensure individual tribal members, not the tribal nation as a whole, own the tree farm land. With individuals owning it, the county can tax the land, Whitsett said. If the sovereign nation owns it, the county cannot tax the land.

She also was concerned about how the tree farm would affect Highway 97 expansion, as it bisects the tree farm.

Liskey: Liskey said he supports the tree farm purchase as part of the overall process of the KBRA, calling it part of the compromise of the agreement. He said it was worth it as a step toward stabilizing the agricultural economy.

“Not only does the water part stabilize the agriculture industry, Mazama trees stabilize the Tribal part,” he said.

Julie Murray-Jensen, vice-president of student services at Klamath Community College, asked what would be different in 18 months, after each candidate is elected.

Liskey: Liskey, speaking from his experience with the Oregon Farm Bureau, said he would work with parties in between sessions, rather than “fighting politics” during session. He would use off-session time to find a common thread of interest and bring big issues forward.

“To get anywhere you need front work and the ability to work with people to find common goal,” he said.

He said increasing business and jobs in the area are key to getting more tax dollars for government services, such as education.

Whitsett: Whitsett predicted the down economy will continue to hit Oregon, and she thought that would result in budgetary belt-tightening in the government. She suggested consolidating agencies, and thinning middle management, as possible costcutting solutions.

“I think the state needs to compress state government,” she said. “I see a contraction of state government out of necessity from a lack of revenue.”

Dan Keppen, a member of the Herald and News’ citizen advisory committee, asked the candidates how they would express rural issues and needs to the urban population of Salem and the Legislature.

Liskey: Liskey wants to work between sessions to educate legislators about rural Oregon. “Show Salem what we have,” he said. “Find issues at a local level.” He said he wants to find people willing to work on those issues and educate them, rather than just compromising.

Whitsett: Whitsett said she wants a legislator road trip bringing others into parts of the state they may have never seen before.

“Most of them have never been south of Eugene or east of Bend,” she said. “Take the legislators out so they can see what Oregon looks like, see what Klamath County looks like, what we have to offer. It is so beautiful here.”

Monte Keady, division chief of Klamath County Fire District No. 1, asked the candidates what services would they fight for in the Legislature, especially given Oregon’s tight budget.

Liskey: “We need to make sure we are making this environment friendly so we don’t have to deal with less,” Liskey said.

Using a pie analogy, he said everyone needs a piece, but the pieces are getting smaller as government agencies must do more with less. Liskey said he wants to make the pie bigger.

His priorities are public safety and education, he said.

Whitsett: Whitsett, too, said public safety and education would be her priorities. She also agreed with Liskey’s pie analogy. She suggested amending the Oregon tax structure to bring businesses in to make that pie bigger.

Chris Maples, president of Oregon Institute of Technology, asked both candidates how they can say they want to shrink government spending, yet expand Highway 97 and improve education and public safety. He asked how they could do both.

Whitsett: “I would attack PERS,” Whitsett said. “And I say attack, meaning change and modify.”

The public employee retirement system can overburden the state system, she said, calling it a $60 billion problem.

She listed several ways to amend the system, including: reducing 8 percent guaranteed earnings, stopping the 6 percent pickup by the state, removing a tax break for out-of-state PERS recipients, stopping healthcare purchases for retirees before the age of 65, and stopping employees from saving up vacation and leave time.

Liskey: Liskey wants to see more production on state and federally owned lands, especially in the region’s forests. He wants to see workers back in the woods, making the forest financially productive and improving forest health.

“Get them cleaned up so they don’t burn up,” he said. “So environmentally, where it’s better for the Tribes, for the fish, for the wildlife — and for the people.”

If timber production can’t return to the forests, Liskey wants the federal government to pay taxes on land it owns, though he admitted he wasn’t sure how to make that happen.

“As a private citizen I have to pay my fair share,” he said. “And they own land. Why don’t they pay their fair share?”




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