JOHN DAY - Gov. Ted Kulongoski knows that rural counties want a new office established to link him to the east side of the state. On Jan. 10, about 70 representatives of the region, most of them county commissioners frustrated with being ignored in Salem, built the nonprofit organization that will lobby for this office.
Originally called the Eastern Oregon Rural Forum, the Eastern Oregon Rural Alliance is an assortment of county leaders, health officials, economic developers and others keyed in to the region's economic and social problems.
"I don't want to see this become one more failed attempt for Eastern Oregon," said Gilliam County Judge Laura Pryor in an impassioned speech to the group Friday. "This is not a sagebrush rebellion."
Pryor said legislators do not ignore the needs of rural Eastern Oregon out of meanspiritedness; they do it out of ignorance of rural issues. The office of rural policy, which was discussed at Kulongoski's inaugural reception in Baker City Jan. 8, aims to both educate legislators and screen legislation for its possible effects on rural citizens.
"We're getting quite a bit of support starting to boil around the office of rural policy," Pryor said.
So much support has arisen that two senators, Ted Ferrioli of John Day and David Nelson of Pendleton, have offered to introduce bills creating the office. The Eastern Oregon Rural Alliance plans to flesh out the office's roles and responsibilities and work with sponsors, possibly in both houses of the Oregon Legislature. Dan Stark, director of the Regional Services Institute at Eastern Oregon University, presented a talking points sheet that he said he had provided to Sen. Nelson.
"The mission of the office is to support strong, sustainable communities and economies in rural Oregon through implementation of public policies based on the best available information," the proposal states.
The office would analyze proposed legislation and agency regulations, become a clearinghouse for information about rural needs, provide grants and report annually to the governor, under the brainstorming sheet which Stark provided. The Eastern Oregon Rural Alliance agreed to review Stark's ideas. The group also completed housekeeping assignments such as adopting its new name ("forum" sounded too nondescript and passive for the group; Eastern Oregon was defined as all counties whose county seats lie east of the Cascades); the group also reviewed its articles of incorporation and bylaws at the Jan. 10 meeting.
The group will meet again 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, at the Federal Building in west John Day. An economic summit is planned on Thursday and Friday, April 24-25, in Burns.
Stark also plans to launch a Web site devoted to regional rural issues at www.ruralpolicy.org.