By Peter Toll
Clackamas County has a new legislator, and history repeats itself.
Silverton Mayor Rick Lewis was selected by commissioners from Marion and Clackamas Counties to succeed Vic Gilliam, also of Silverton, in the Oregon House of Representatives. Gilliam, very ill with Lou Gehrig’s disease, resigned Jan. 30 after his re-election in District 18.
Oregon law dictates that a replacement be from the same party (Republican, in this case,) and come from a short list of candidates submitted to commissioners by local party representatives. As Marion has more people in District 18 than Clackamas does, votes were appropriately weighted.
Gilliam’s resignation was no surprise. He has been increasingly ill for quite a while. In fact, when he ran against Tom Kane in the last election, he rarely left his sickbed. He won in spite of his illness, and therein lies a particular conundrum:
If he knew he was too ill to serve, why run? The answer, to some political insiders, is that by waiting until after the election he guarantees the seat stays Republican. It could be argued that if a newcomer ran, Kane could’ve had a better chance to win, despite a strong Republican registration edge.
Gilliam, popular in a bi-partisan way, has experience along these lines. He got into the legislature exactly the same way. Republican Mac Sumner got re-elected in 2006 despite serious lung cancer. After his victory he resigned and Gilliam was appointed to fill the seat; Sumner died shortly thereafter.
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Clackamas County also has a new leader in Sonya Fischer, a Lake Oswego attorney specializing in family law. She was unanimously appointed by the four other commissioners to fill out the two years left in the term of Jim Bernard, as Bernard was elected to a four-year term as chair.
Commissioner Fischer has a strong background in the political world, having worked in the legislature on behalf of the Oregon Department of Human Services and as an aide to the late State Senator Frank Roberts, among other positions.
She has made it clear where her priorities lie: helping the “forgotten people” of the county. County government devotes a strong amount of resources to social service programs, and, along with job creation, Fisher intends to spend most of her time improving those services.
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Interesting to see Oregon Senator Ron Wyden draw a big crowd to Oregon City High School’s gym. Heretofore, Wyden would have attracted some 150-200 people to his town hall, an affair he relishes. But the new president has folks stirred up, and 1,500 packed the gym to hear Wyden’s views and ask him to help them understand what’s going on in D.C.
Later in the week, Fifth District Congressman Kurt Schrader had a similar experience at a middle school in Milwaukie. Again, usually drawing maybe 50-75 people, Schrader packed the school’s auditorium with closer to 600 interested citizens. Somewhat breathtaking, one could surmise.
Both of these federal legislators are Democrats, and that raises an interesting question. Why are all these folks showing up to raise hell with people who already oppose the new president’s programs? Looking for reassurance, could be one answer.
Out in Eastern Oregon where Greg Walden is the lone Republican congressman from our state, the man who revels in leadership circles in the Congress and thinks the new president is doing a grand job hasn’t scheduled a town hall. In Bend, most populous area of the sprawling 2nd District, his spokesman told questioners: “Later in the year.” Yeah, sure.
Peter Toll is a 28-year county resident, independent financial advisor,
and long-time Democratic Party activist. He lives in Lake Oswego.