Rural Oregon has new voice
By MITCH LIES Oregon Staff Writer 2/3/05
First-term Oregon Sen. Doug Whitsett,
R-Klamath Falls, brings a rural outlook to the
state Capitol. Whitsett, a Southern Oregon
farmer, is a former veterinarian and former
president of the irrigation water rights
advocacy organization Water For Life. - MARK
ROZIN, Capital Press
SALEM – From his office on the third floor of the
Capitol, first-term Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath
Falls, has a unique perspective. It’s not so much
his view of State Street that is unique, but where
he is coming from.
Whitsett, 61, is entering politics at an age when
most are starting to plan for retirement.
The farmer-veterinarian combines a background in
science with the common-sense approach he
cultivated while running a small farm and a
“I believe my science background helps in critical
thinking,” he said, “and my background as a
veterinarian helps in problem resolution.
“Maybe I can bring something to the Senate that
hasn’t been here,” he said.
Whitsett, who went to high school in Prineville,
Ore., graduated from Washington State University’s
veterinary college in 1968. He raises primarily
pasture and timber on two small farms in Southern
Whitsett, who sold his veterinary practice in
1994, said he decided to enter politics partly
because opportunity knocked and partly because he
believed rural Oregon needed a voice in Salem.
The opportunity developed when the four-term
Republican senator from District 28, Steve Harper,
decided not to seek a fifth term.
Whitsett, who was president of the irrigation
water rights advocacy group Water for Life when
the Senate post came open, said Harper encouraged
him to run. Harper retired from politics to spend
more time with his family.
“He and his wife took us (Whitsett and his wife,
Gail) by the hand and helped us immensely,”
Whitsett gained 60 percent of the vote in a
three-way Republican primary and won the general
election by a landslide.
Whitsett, who has been appointed to the Senate
commerce, judiciary and transportation committees,
said he would like to address several issues
during his time in state politics.
Among the issues is a concern that government
agencies are overstepping their bounds in drafting
“I’m disturbed that there are several agencies
that are expanding their authority by writing
administrative rules that are not authorized by
existing statute,” he said.
“Government needs to be more accountable and more
transparent: Certainly the budget process has to
be more transparent so a person who wants to see
where their money is going, can,” he said.
Whitsett is a strong supporter of Measure 37, the
property rights compensation measure voters passed
in the fall, and he said he would like to see
land-use regulations made more accommodating for
“Land use regulations work better on the West side
than they do on the East side,” he said. “We need
to adopt changes that allow economic development
in rural areas.
“Most of the state’s land-use regulations are for
the perceived benefit of the public, but they are
only being paid for by the individual who owns the
A longtime water rights advocate who just recently
stepped down as president of Water For Life,
Whitsett believes the public needs to be better
informed about the importance of water to farming.
“A water right makes up 95 percent of the value of
the land (in some basins),” he said. “When they
turned off the water in the Klamath Basin in 2001,
the assessed value of the land went from $600 an
acre to $27 an acre.”
Whitsett, one of two new Republican senators this
session, said he also is interested in refining
the budget for public education.
“It needs to be studied to determine the cost of
services and how much we’re getting for our
dollars,” he said.
“I would like to see the entire state budgeting
process done more from a standpoint the way a
business does it,” he said. “I would like to see
it more performance-based.”
Whitsett said he is much more comfortable working
on his farm than working the halls of the state
Capitol. “I live in the country because I like the
country,” he said.
Still, he is enjoying his first week at the
Capitol. “So far, it’s been very interesting,” he
said. “It’s been a steep learning curve – similar
to going to college. There is a tremendous amount
of information coming at you.”
While the Oregon Senate may be a beneficiary of
Whitsett’s scientific background and his fresh
approach to lawmaking, rural Oregon may be the big
winner of Whitsett’s decision to seek office.
“The real underlying reason for my being here,” he
said, “is based on the fact that for years, I have
seen the rural economy and lifestyle under fire. I
believe it has been the backbone of America
forever, and I would hate to see it disappear on
Mitch Lies reports from Salem. His e-mail address
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