THE COUNTY SCENE by Susan Morgan – John Kitzhaber

The sands have quickly shifted under one of Oregon’s most enduring political figures.

I first met John Kitzhaber during the 1999 legislative session. I was a freshman legislator. Kitzhaber had already been in politics for 16 years, including 12 years in the Legislature and 4 years as Governor.

Our interests crossed over in fisheries issues. I landed on a committee that defined the process around distributing lottery funding to be used for fish habitat improvement. That system endures and works well today, built around the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Watershed Councils and Soil & Water Conservation Districts. It’s a grassroots approach that combines lottery dollars with local match and has restored thousands of miles of fish habitat over the years.

From 2001 to the end of 2003, Oregon was mired in a recession that was caused by the .com bubble bursting. During the interim between the ’01 and ’03 sessions Kitzhaber called the legislature in 5 times to re-balance budgets. At that juncture, I was primarily
legislating in the ways and means process. Through that interim I spent a great deal of time working with budgeteers from both houses and both sides of the aisle working on budget balancing packages that were voted in those 5 “not-so-special” sessions. Kitzhaber and Kate Brown were also part of that group. We all got to know each other pretty well.

The Kitzhaber I knew was politically very sophisticated and well-connected. He understood and anticipated the political landscape: what was possible, and what was not.

He was personable, friendly and likeable. He was a sweeping vision, big picture kind of a guy. His vision created the Oregon Plan for Salmon & Watersheds and the Oregon Health Plan. He had a gift for inspiring a grand vision and inspiring the bringing of that vision into being. The work, the nuts and bolts of design and execution, was done by his staff, legislators, agencies and advocacy groups.

He was not a detail guy. He didn’t spend a lot of time in the building during legislative sessions overseeing the day-to-day happenings. He would inject himself into the discussion at critical junctures and at the end of the session to make sure he agreed with the outcome.

It’s not hard to imagine that Cylvia Hayes appealed to his passion for “sweeping visions”. It’s not hard to imagine that he didn’t pay much attention to details. It’s long been known that “the devil is in the detail”.

Susan always welcomes your questions or comments. Please contact her by email at morgan@co.douglas.or.us; by mail at Douglas County Courthouse, Room 217, 1036 SE Douglas, Roseburg, 97470; or by phone at 440-4201.

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