Legislature to Lose Two Veterans

Rep. Bill Garrard (left) and Senator Dave Nelson (right) will retire, further hollowing out the ranks of Republican moderates.Two veteran moderate Republican legislators have announced they won't run for re-election. Their retirements will be a loss for the legislature.

Rep. Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls, who owned radio stations, served three terms in the House after a stint as a county commissioner — where he became the first Klamath County commissioner to win re-election in more than 100 years. Senator Dave Nelson, R-Pendleton, came to the legislature in 1996 with a background as a wheat rancher with a law degree.

From geographical extremes — Southern and Eastern Oregon — Garrard and Nelson carved out moderate reputations in Salem. They accomplished the tough feat of representing conservative districts while finding a way to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, including more liberal colleagues from urban Oregon. Their ability to find middle ground on tough policy is a hallmark of their legislative service.

Garrard and Nelson found status in Salem as members of the Joint Ways and Means Committee where they worked across party lines to craft compromises on thorny budget issues.  

Garrard was best known for his work on land-use during controversy over ballot measures dealing with property rights. His experience running a radio station in a rural area made him sympathetic to the plight of other small business operators — and underdogs in general.

Nelson battled to build electronic infrastructure, not only in Eastern Oregon but throughout the state.  One of his accomplishments — the "Nelson Technology and Opportunity Partnership” —rightfully bears his name. On Ways and Means, he led efforts to pinpoint appropriate investments for the State Radio Project, a major effort to provide interoperable public safety communications capabilities throughout the state.  

Nelson followed in the footsteps of two well-respected Eastern Oregonians — Gordon Smith, who went on to represent Oregon in the U.S. Senate, and Mike Thorne, who led the Ways and Means Committee with distinction in the 1980s.

Candidates are positioning themselves to run for the Garrard and Nelson seats, which are expected to remain in Republicans hands.

There also was news last week of the passing of former Senator Jeannette Hamby, a Republican from Hillsboro, which also evoked the ability of veteran legislators to craft solid compromises in Salem. She deserves a lot of credit for her work in Salem, including on a variety of women's health issues.

It will be difficult to replace Garrard and Nelson. They have the unusual instinct and ability to find middle ground. Here's hoping their replacements will evidence the same ability, often a lost art in politics today.

The author, CFM partner Dave Fiskum, had the privilege of lobbying all three of the legislators mentioned above during his 30 years in Salem.