By Pat Caldwell
Oregon District 60 representative Cliff Bentz is going to be busy during the next nine months.
Not only will the Oregon House of Representatives member work to address a number of critical issues for voters in Eastern Oregon but, as one of two GOP assistant minority leaders, Bentz, a Republican from Ontario, will also toil to help fellow Republicans secure or hold contested seats as election season dawns.
Bentz represents Baker, Grant, Harney, Malheur and Lake counties in the Oregon Legislature. He is also a member of a number of key legislative commissions and is the vice-chairman of the Transportation and Economic Development Committee.
Bentz's role as assistant minority leader is critical in terms of helping fellow Republicans get elected. During the next year, Bentz must juggle his responsibilities to his constituents while working to generate support for viable GOP candidates at the state level.
"The big focus right now is the election," he said.
Bentz said of the 26 Republican slots in the 60-member Oregon House of Representatives, nine key positions will be up for grabs in the 2014 election cycle.
"Nine (Republicans) are not running. That means that to maintain what we got we have to look at who is running for those seats," he said.
While Bentz said there are a number of critical policy issues he must focus on for Eastern Oregon voters andndash; from water challenges to the environment to economic development andndash; he conceded he will be compelled to devote a lot of time to the election cycle as well.
"I'm going to spend a serious amount of time helping get people elected," he said. "I've committed to spending half of each week in Salem until November."
The upcoming election phase should be of vital importance to local voters, Bentz said.
"It should be of enormous interest to my constituents on how well the Republicans do," he said.
As assistant minority leader, Bentz essentially must work to push awareness of GOP candidates in many areas of Oregon.
"From my standpoint, part of my job is to try to get visibility for those who share our values," he said.
Politics is often labeled as a local affair but it is also all about numbers. Especially if a particular party is in the minority, as the GOP is in the Oregon House. That means, Bentz said, every single race is critical.
"I think there is often a kind of thought that somebody can go down there (to Salem) and get a lot done but it sure helps to get the votes," he said.
His job, essentially, will be to sell the Republican view of the world.
"You go around and meet with people who support Republicans or show them why they should. We are all trying to sort out what it is to make the state a better place to live," he said.
Running for office in Oregon andndash; whether as a Democrat or a Republican andndash; isn't easy and it isn't cheap. Bentz said fundraising is a huge part of any candidate's success.
"It takes between $300,000 to $500,000 to run through a primary and general election. So it is important we meet with business people and explain to them that this is why we need their help. I need to help other people get the word out," he said.
While he struggles to help Republicans gain contested House positions, Bentz is also obliged to keep his eyes on a multitude of political issues revolving around Eastern Oregon.
He said he is working on solutions regarding a potential sage grouse controversy, economic development, health care and energy policy.
The sage grouse issue will take center stage at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 9 at the Baker County Events Center, 2600 East St. in Baker City (see related story on Page 1A).
The BLM is promoting the hearing in Baker City andndash; and others throughout Eastern Oregon andndash; regarding its response to a possible listing of the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
Bentz encouraged local voters to attend the session to secure information and to give feedback on the issue.
Another major challenge Bentz said he must grapple with will be ongoing efforts at the state and federal level to find a viable solution to the high cost of health care.
"We need a way of getting control of how much we spend on health care," he said.
The health care cost puzzle is complex, he said.
"It is like attacking an elephant with a fork. It is a challenge," he said.