Oregon Governor Kate Brown visited Baker City on Friday afternoon to discuss her goals for the state for the upcoming year.
More than 70 people gathered at the Baker Heritage Museum to hear Brown talk for about 15 minutes. She then answered questions from audience members for about 45 minutes.
The question-and-answer part of the event was moderated by Baker City Mayor Loran Joseph.
Before Brown’s arrival, a group of about 30 people congregated across Grove Street at the northeast corner of Geiser-Pollman Park to display signs expressing support for President Donald Trump and the 2nd Amendment, and opposing some of Brown’s policies.
Inside the Museum, Brown said that although job growth has been high and unemployment rates low in most of the state, economic prosperity hasn’t reached all Oregon communities.
“My role as governor is to figure out how we provide all of our communities with the tools you need to thrive,” said Brown, a Democrat who was elected to a four-year term in November 2018.
She took over the governorship in February 2015 after John Kitzhaber resigned.
Br own said access to health care and housing will be her two top priorities for 2019.
Brown said while about 94 percent of adults have access to health care coverage the state is working to increase that to 100 percent.
As for housing, that’s an issue “impacting every single community around the state,” the governor said.
Last week, the Oregon Legislature passed the first statewide rent control bill in the United States, legislation Brown supported and signed into law.
The law went into effect immediately because of an emergency clause in the bill.
Some of the people demonstrating outside the Museum went inside to listen to Brown, while others remained outside during the event.
Tom Van Diepen of Baker City held a sign prior to Brown’s arrival, but he went inside to listen to the governor.
“We’re just here to let Mrs. Brown know that not everybody in the state feels like they do on the west side,” Van Diepen said.
The opposition gathering was organized through social media and intended to show Brown that there is a lack of support in some places for some of the policies she supports, including the controversial carbon emissions limitation, House Bill 2020, also known as a cap-and-trade bill because it would both cap carbon emissions for some industries while allowing businesses that exceed the limits to buy credits from companie s that don’t.
“That cap and trade thing could literally wipe us out with killing jobs,” Van Diepen said.
Other local residents, as well as Baker County’s two representatives in Salem, Rep. Lynn Findley of Vale and Sen. Cliff Bentz of Ontario, both Republicans, contend that the bill, as written, would cost residents in higher fuel and natural gas costs and threaten the future of businesses including Ash Grove Cement’s Durkee plant, which employs about 115 people.
But Brown, who supports the bill, also referred to it by its official name, the Clean Energy Jobs bill.
She argues the legislation is necessary to reduce carbon emissions and start to deal with the effects of climate change.
“We are seeing the impacts of climate change in communities around the state,” Brown said.
The governor toured the Ash Grove plant, about 25 miles southeast of Baker City, before speaking at the Baker Heritage Museum.
During Friday’s event, Brown answered questions from the audience ranging from health care premium costs to climate change to the carbon emissions bill.
When asked how the bill would affect Baker County, Brown said her goal is to ensure it doesn’t make conditions worse for communities that suffered during the Great Recession. She said the legislation also has the potential to create good-paying jobs in rural areas.
As to the specific concern about Ash Grove’s Durkee plant, Brown said state officials are looking at ways to help the plant succeed if the bill becomes law, including either exemptions from the carbon limits or providing the company with allowances to help it buy credits in the market.
“We’re working hard to get throughout the state and talk with these businesses, figure out what makes the most sense to their particular sector,” Brown said.
See more in the March 4, 2019, issue of the Baker City Herald.