Redistricting ushers Rep. Smith into Jefferson County
State legislator meets with his new constituents for the first time Monday after redistricting gives Jefferson County new representation in the houseNews Editor
Beginning Dec. 15, Jefferson County will have a new state representative.
That man is Greg Smith, R-Heppner, who introduced himself to a small group of local leaders during a short stop in Madras Monday as he sought to get up to speed on local issues and concerns.
The Democrat-controlled redistricting process brought Jefferson County into a redrawn House District 59, giving Smith, 33, a new group of constituents and moving Tumalo Republican Ben Westlund's area of influence southward.
"You folks have been very well served and now the challenge for me is to step up and represent you as well as you've already been represented," Smith told those gathered at the Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.
Smith, a freshman in the Oregon House of Representatives, won a landslide victory in 2000 by a 70 percent margin. He was chosen to serve as Assistant Majority Leader during the 71st Legislative Assembly and was the only freshman legislator to serve on two Ways and Means Committees: the Subcommittee on Economic Development and Transportation and the Subcommittee for Public Safety.
He listened Monday as six of his newest constituents outlined what they considered some of the top issues in Madras and the county: the future state prison, education, recreation on the Deschutes River and the badly needed North Junction realignment, among others.
But Cogentrix topped the list and occupied much of the discussion. Smith, with a deep background in economic development, characterized cogent plants as "wonderful assets to communities," but said he wouldn't consider endorsing the Grizzly Power Project until he met with the plant's opposition groups and studied the issue further.
"They're clean, they're efficient and they increase the tax base of the community," he did note, however.
Smith did most of the listening rather than speaking during his meeting. He said he didn't run on specific issues in 2000; he just promised to listen to his constituents' and fight for them.
But he did say his political philosophy is based on "protecting seniors, ensuring public safety, protecting education and finding ways to spur the economy."
House District 59 now includes all of Jefferson, Wasco, Sherman, Gilliam and Wheeler counties, plus a portion of Grant County that extends east to John Day.
Smith, who lives in the redrawn 57th District, plans to move to Fossil in Wheeler County and has already announced plans for re-election in the new District 59.
"I knew this day was coming but I tried to stay out of here so I didn't step on any toes," Smith said. "But now its high time I got over here."
He called Rep. Westlund his "mentor" and said the veteran lawmaker has helped him learn the tricks of the trade.
"There are ways we get things done for Eastern Oregon," said Smith, speaking of the tension between those living on different sides of the Cascades. "We outsmart them and outwork them."
Smith described himself as a hands-on legislator who will spend much of his time getting out into Jefferson County and listening to its citizens' concerns.
"I fight for my district, then the state," he said. "Everybody approaches public policy differently. Some people think of the state first, then the district, but not me."
Smith said the current $720 million shortfall in the state's General Fund underscores the challenges he and other legislators face. He warned that the cuts may be much deeper than expected -- maybe more than $1 billion -- and that all local state agencies should be prepared to feel the burden.
"As a representative, you spend 95 percent of the time fighting for what you have and 5 percent trying to progress," he said. "It's amazing what's going on down there."
House Speaker Mark Simmons recently appointed Smith to serve on the Special Task Force on Jobs and the Economy, a committee that will look for ways to stimulate job growth in Oregon as the legislator enters the special session. It's a somewhat fitting job for Smith, whose background in economic development is extensive.
He has served as a business development and finance member of the Port of Morrow for six years, and says he actively promoted economic expansion, diversified employment opportunities and job creation there.
In August, he was elected Vice President of the Pacific Northwest Economic Development Region, a statutory public/private partnership created between Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and the Canadian provinces Alberta, Yukon and British Columbia.
He is also an Officer with the Board of Morrow Development Corporation, a private partnership with the port, which provides financial management assistance for business development projects. He teaches business development classes at the Blue Mountain Community College, too.
A fiscal conservative, Smith is a proponent of privatizing state agencies and "bringing them out of Salem into rural Oregon," which he describes as "economically distressed."
"We are overly reliant on agriculture here," Smith said. "But let me tell you, agriculture is my friend."
The Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregon Cattlemen's Association have given Smith a perfect voting record. The latter even awarded him with their highest honor, the "Lariat Laureate Award," given to one representative and one senator for outstanding performance following each session.
Smith also received perfect scores from the National Rifle Association, Oregon Right to Life, Oregonians for Food & Shelter and the National Federation of Independent Businesses during the last session.
Smith holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Liberal Studies and a minor in Philosophy he received at Eastern Oregon University.
As he left his Monday meeting, he made this promise to his listeners: "You're going to be seeing a lot of me in town soon."