SALEM, Ore. — Oregon's legislative session got underway in Salem on Tuesday. It's the first session lawmakers are together in person at the Capitol building since before the pandemic, and the first long session as Speaker of the House for Representative Dan Rayfield.
Democratic Rep. Rayfield was re-elected as House speaker on Monday. He said he's eager to work together with the state's Republicans to pass new laws over the next four months.
"Oregon's facing some unique, unprecedented opportunities," he told KGW's Laural Porter, during a one-on-one interview in his office. "To seize on the semiconductor industry, in terms of housing and homelessness, and also our behavioral health crises that we're experiencing across the country and specifically here in Oregon."
Rayfield said he plans to build a culture of respect in Salem, to try and foster an environment where both parties can work together. He said they're both working toward common aims, albeit with different philosophies. Looking at campaign mailers, Rayfield noted that both sides were talking about the same subjects.
"Every campaign was talking about housing. Every campaign was talking about behavioral health. That's an opportunity of commonality. Let's focus on some of these things that we agree on. Those are the things that Oregonians expect us to be delivering on."
Legislative sessions in recent years have seen stalemates and walkouts when Democrats and Republicans couldn't agree. There's a stark divide between urban Oregon and rural Oregon, where many people complain that their concerns aren't taken seriously in Salem, even prompting an effort from some eastern Oregonians to have their counties annexed into Idaho.
Rayfield said he went on a tour of eastern and central Oregon to better experience and understand the concerns of people across the state.
"You really start to appreciate that my life, where I live in Corvallis, is vastly different than whether you're in Portland or whether you're in eastern Oregon," he said.
It was also an opportunity to build relationships with lawmakers outside his party. Rayfield noted that he had dinner with the Republican minority leader, Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson, on her Prineville ranch, and that "there were a lot of non-political conversations."
"That doesn't mean we aren't going to have challenges, because we are," Rayfield acknowledged. "We should expect them and embrace them. But that's the beautiful thing about a democracy."
Looking ahead to the session, Rayfield said he wants to focus all lawmakers' efforts on investing in Oregonians, including in the semiconductor industry —initiating a joint committee to work on applications for the federal CHIPS Act, and to build up the workforce of educators and help students recover from distance learning during the pandemic.
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