As part of a regular series, Secretary of State Kate Brown logged this report from her time on the road.
Soon after taking office in January I promised to visit all of Oregon’s 36 counties.
It was easy to ignore the groans from my staff but a little more difficult to arrange the logistics. This is, as we know, a large state, more than 98,000 square miles, making it the ninth largest in the country. My travels reminded me of our good fortune in living in such a spectacularly beautiful state.
I’m happy to report that even with the press of the Legislature, I’ve so far visited 30 counties and have plans in the works to visit the other 6 by the end of 2009.
But the best part of my travels have been meeting with the county clerks and their staffs and hearing about the issues they work with, which are quite different than what goes on in the more urban counties west of the Cascades. Some of our smaller counties have been hit hard by the downturn in the economy, especially those dependant on the resource industries, and they struggle to keep up with matters bigger counties take for granted.
In Prineville, Crook County Clerk Dee Berman gave me a tour of the wonderful stone county courthouse that celebrated its 100th birthday this year. She also told me a story about how she agreed last fall to drive way out of town to help a sight-impaired man vote. “As long as you’re coming;’ he added, “would you mind stopping to pick me up a can of coffee and a gallon of milk? The one with the red lid.” She said she would and brought him some doughnuts as well.
In Grant County, Chief Deputy Clerk Brenda Percy showed me the huge books that are still used to record all official county transactions: deeds, marriages, name changes, property transactions, everything. Like other rural counties, they have shelves filled with these giant ledgers that look like something out of Gringott’s Bank in the Harry Potter novels. They can post some things on their web site, but their entire history is in those books and they can’t even afford to put everything on microfilm. One fire could wipe out their history.
So I’m going to ask the Legislature to find ways to help the counties preserve their history and bring their record keeping up to date. I want to make sure we do what we can to preserve this important part of Oregon history.
As part of my efforts, this month I embarked on a two day trip through Malheur and Harney counties.
My first stop with the Argus Observer, where I was interviewed for a story. I was happy to see Pat Caldwell, the Argus Observer’s editor and one of 5 Caldwell brothers, some of whom I know through their hard work here in Oregon.
After that, we took a trip to meet with Harney County Clerk, Maria Iturriaga. She gave us some tremendous input on the recall process in rural communities that I am talking with my staff about. She told me that recall laws are too broad and that the recall process is extremely divisive in rural communities. The example she gave me was a recall that took place 15 years ago, which left wounds that are still healing to this day.
Next up was a Lunch Forum hosted by the Treasure Valley Community College’s Business Center and the local Rotary club, followed by a meeting with the Harney County Commissioners. In both of these meetings, I came away with the same, strong message: Times are tough and the community needs to use a team approach to tackle the challenges it’s faced with; it doesn’t really matter if I agree with you politically. In fact, one of the commissioners said to the group, “If your house is on fire, it doesn’t matter if i like you or not, you need me to help you put it out”
I have to agree. I’ve seen how this State is struggling in this time of economic crisis and I believe that the best way forward is to join hands with our political neighbors and forge ahead as a unit. Our figurative house is burning, we need to work together to put out the fire.