Home News Local News Cattlemen urge Kulongoski to be a friend to agriculture
Cattlemen urge Kulongoski to be a friend to agriculture
By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
The feedlot at the Harrell Hereford Ranch is a long way from the governor's mansion, Mahonia Hall about 355 miles, more or less.
But not so far that the governor-elect can't come out for a little on-the-job-training even though he's not quite on the job.
Fresh off a consultation with Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne and business leaders in Ontario, Ted Kulongoski flew to Baker City Thursday to meet with area cattle producers.
And shirking the warmth and comfort of a meeting room, Kulongoski elected instead to hold the meeting with about 15 cattlemen outside, in front of scores of witnesses: Bob Harrell Jr.'s 700 head of Herefords.
At first, Kulongoski peppered the cattlemen with questions: How do you market Oregon Country Beef? Are you getting any help from the Department of Agriculture? What about that slaughterhouse I hear about in Madras? How do you sell your cattle on the Internet?
But mostly, the man with the appointment power to run departments and commissions important to producers Agriculture, Environmental Quality, the State Water Resources Board, Forestry, and others said he came to Baker City to listen.
"Help me out here, because I happen to agree with you about our natural resource-based economy," he said at one point. "People understand your economic problems in rural Oregon, but they don't know much about the cultural side.
"Traditionally, you've produced the natural resources and they've produced most of the jobs. That was our social compact.
"But now those jobs are going away, to China and Australia and Chile. The urban people might come to rural Oregon for a vacation, but they don't really understand your culture.
"How do you redefine that social compact? You here in rural Oregon just have a small voice; what you need is a bigger one. You people close to the land are our best conservationists. If the people who live in more than half of the state's land area believe I don't represent them, then I can't govern."
One way the incoming administration can help, Ralph Ward told the governor-elect, is for Kulongoski not to emulate his predecessors.
"Past administrations have been anti-natural resources," the former Baker County Court Judge told Kulongoski. "If we get just a little help from your administration, I guarantee you you'll get a lot of support out here. We just want a fair shake."
"It's a matter of who do people listen to," added Scott Warner. "People on the left will tell you it doesn't matter what rural people do it's all wrong. Part of that is our problem, but it's the message that people are hearing. That voice is getting stronger and stronger, and after a while, people start to believe it."
Dairy owner John Rohner urged Kulongoski to take special care with his appointments.
Indeed, said incoming Baker County Commission Chair Fred Warner Jr. later, Kulongoski put off naming his natural resources cabinet members until he'd made his Eastern Oregon visit. That appointment is still pending.
"It's really important we get someone who understands agriculture with your appointments, because if agriculture does well, the state's economy will do well," Rohner said. "We don't have any room for someone to come in and experiment on us. The Department of Agriculture is supposed to help, but sometimes that's hard to see."
A discussion over Oregon State University's plan to eliminate its Department of Rangeland Studies led Kulongoski to remind producers that possible cuts to various state agencies can affect rural residents as much as their urban counterparts.
"I know that you earn it, and I spend it," he said with a smile. "Corrections has become a big part of our budget, and that's something that benefits Baker County directly. You might rather put that money into your schools, but I don't think we have the flexibility in the budget to do that."
Fred Warner Jr. had the honor of driving Kulongoski to his next scheduled stop in La Grande, but the governor-elect had fallen asleep by the North Powder exit.
"His staff has been working him very hard," Warner said.
The governor-elect has demonstrated his commitment to Eastern Oregon by scheduling three appearances in a month's time, Warner said. One of Kulongoski's inaugural bashes will be held in Baker City Jan. 8, and the new governor is also scheduled to attend the Baker County Unlimited banquet Jan. 18.
"He knows we're out here, and he's real disturbed about the urban-rural divide," Warner said. "The governor is in charge of a million commissions and boards. If your people can get on some of those, they can write and oversee the administrative rules.
"I think that Ted will be more bi-partisan than governors were in the past. That's why these producers want to get involved. They know that the devil is in the details."