Local legislators to chair powerful House committee

Two Jackson County legislators, Republican Rep. Dennis Richardson and Democratic Rep. Peter Buckley, will be co-chairmen of the powerful, budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee, thanks to an even party split in the Oregon House of Representatives.

Richardson says he and Buckley will have a head start over other committee leaders, in part because of their geographic connection.

"I think Peter Buckley and I will have an advantage because we have the experience and trust of working together," said Richardson, R-Central Point.

They will be joined by a Senate co-chairman, Democrat Richard Devlin of Tualatin, to lead the committee that over the course of the next six months will shape the state's general fund spending in the face of an estimated $3.5 billion shortfall.

Buckley, D-Ashland, and Richardson were appointed by House Co-Speakers Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, and Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, who are sharing the speaker's job to accommodate the 30-30 divide between Democrats and Republicans.

The even split will force legislators in all committees to look past party lines and learn to share power for the sake of progress. "It's not going to be an easy process," said Richardson. "Success will largely be determined based on the relationships between legislators."

Richardson said that although he and Buckley will have disagreements, they are both committed to moving forward with the task of passing the 2011-13 budget. He said to avoid another decade of deficits, changes must be made in the way that Oregon spends its tax dollars. "I'm hoping that we can focus on redefining the purpose of state government, and budgeting becomes a tool for doing this," said Richardson, who served as a member of the Joint Ways and Means Committee in previous sessions.

Buckley, who will take on his second stint as a co-chairman of the committee, said he entered his first term with trepidation but is less wary now. "I feel like I now have perspective and will be helpful to the overall process," Buckley said.

Buckley said he and Richardson may differ over which issues will take priority for the committee, namely his own interests in reforming public safety and human services.

"I believe that there should be more judicial discretion rather than enforcement of mandatory sentencing," Buckley explained. "Dennis may or may not agree."

Buckley said he will also push for funding to human services such as early childhood education programs, and in-home care for seniors and the developmentally disabled.

Richardson, too, has a background in human services funding. In 2005, he chaired the Ways and Means' Human Services Subcommittee that developed the budget for the Oregon Department of Human Services and other social services agencies.

Richardson said he is most interested in controlling state spending to create jobs. "We must start by bringing spending under control and making Oregon a better place to do business," he said. "Private enterprise created prosperity, and job growth will help provide more of the revenue we need to fund essential programs."

Buckley said it was clear to him since the election that Richardson likely would be joining him as a co-chairman of the committee, and said he was eager to see how things will come together.

"I think we will have philosophical differences, but Dennis and I will work them out," Buckley said.

He added that if the committee is able to function smoothly, the Jackson County legislative pair will have an opportunity to help shape the entire session.

"If the two of us can find a way to cooperate and work well together, we have a good chance of getting a lot of support from the Legislature."

Teresa Ristow is a reporting intern from Southern Oregon University. Reach her at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.

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