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Newsmakers: Husband and wife team could bridge chambers gap
by Devan Schwartz, Herald and News 12/14/12
Rep.-elect Gail Whitsett, R-Dist. 56, is no stranger to Salem, having served as chief of staff for her husband, State Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Dist. 28. But becoming a state representative will be a big change.

“I’ll have staff now instead of being staff,” Whitsett said this week. She won a two-year term to replace retiring Republican State Rep. Bill Garrard in District 56.

Her priorities are private sector job growth, ensuring reliable delivery of water and properly connecting her constituents to available resources to improve their quality of life.
Whitsett said it’s interesting learning different protocols for legislators and staff. For example, staffers have a delineated path they must walk to get to their desks, whereas representatives and senators can cross the aisle and enter more freely.
With eight years experience as her husband’s chief of staff, Whitsett also notes differences in the two chambers. In the Senate, she said, there is a roll call by name for voting. But in the House, a general announcement is made and representatives must vote by pressing a buzzer, with only a 30-second window.
Called to Salem this week for a special session that convenes today, Whitsett has used her time to prepare for her new job while having one last hurrah as chief of staff.
“It’s been very good, enlightening,” Whitsett said, adding that it’s also been quite tiring. “I didn’t think there was that much I didn’t know — but I’m learning it now.”
Side Bars
Grounded and well-rounded
It may be an unlikely path to politics, but representative-elect Gail Whitsett draws on years of experience in geology and horse-breeding.
Bachelor's and master’s degrees from Oregon State University led to her being recruited as a petroleum exploration geologist in a Rocky Mountain region called the Overthrust Belt.
Later, Whitsett became a petroleum consultant in North Dakota. This is the location of the Bakken Formation, an oil boom area through which the Keystone XL Pipeline is slated to run.
Also knowledgeable about horse-breeding and still the proud owner of five active mares, Whitsett’s life experiences have attuned her political expertise.
When committee assignments are given out for the upcoming session, Whitsett hopes for three committee assignments reflective of her expertise: Agriculture and Natural Resources, Transportation and Economic Development, and Energy, Environment and Water.
Government in her blood
When she was a student at Henley High School, young Gail Whitsett worked as a page for State Rep. Gary Wilhelms. She also took part in the YMCA Youth and Government Program, in which students run model governments. A prominent co-participant in the YMCA program was current Klamath County Circuit Court Judge Cameron Wogan.
And when Whitsett won a statewide Elks competition to visit our nation’s capitol, she ran into another future politician: Rep. Greg Walden (R-Dist. 2). She said they now joke about the photographs showing the congressman back when he had hair.
“I always had a real interest in government,” said Whitsett, who will be sworn in for her two-year term on Jan. 14. The session begins in February and will last about six months.
Husband and wife team
“You’re up here and you realize there haven’t been good relationships between the Senate and the House,” said Gail Whitsett, who will transition from chief of staff for her husband, State Sen. Doug Whitsett (R-Dist. 28), to a state representative of District 56.
Longtime legislators have told Whitsett they’re excited for her new position, and think she and her husband can build a bridge between the two chambers, which have been largely uncommunicative.
Whitsett has spent the last few days getting to know the “freshmen class” of incoming legislators, as well as existing colleagues from both the Republican and Democratic parties.
Legislative priorities
Though she won’t be sworn in until Jan. 14 and the next session doesn’t begin until February, Representative-elect Gail Whitsett is clear about her priorities.
Whitsett plans to first and foremost assist the private sector in job creation, especially in forestry and agriculture. This includes encouraging the development of sustainable logging.

Web exclusive: Former chief of staff finds new staff members

State Sen. Doug Whitsett (R-Dist. 28) has hired Judy Trego, a former staffer for both himself and for Rep. Greg Walden (R-Dist. 2). With her experience and connections in federal politics, Gail Whitsett thinks Trego will make a great chief of staff.
For her own staff chief, the representative-elect has found Sarah Dressler, a UCLA graduate and computer expert. Dressler, who lives in Bend, will relocate to Salem during legislative sessions and other busy times involving meetings or other work.


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