Lobbyist Memory of Gene Timms

The death of former Senator Gene Timms kindled fond memories of his statewide perspective and willingness to find common ground.The death of former Senator Gene Timms, R-Burns, reported Wednesday by The Oregonian, brought back a lot of memories for me.

Gino, as some of us lobbyists called him, though never in public, represented Eastern Oregon for 18 years, then was turned out by a term limits law in 2000.  As Oregonian reporter Harry Esteve put it in his story on Timms' passing: "During Timms years in the legislature, he became known as a fierce advocate for his sprawling eastern Oregon district, and as a hedge against runaway budgets.  Genial and soft-spoken, Timms made friends on both sides of the political aisle in Salem, and worked his way into leadership positions. He was co-chairman of the Legislature's powerful budget committee, and was Senate minority leader."

His role as Senate co-chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee allowed Gino to play a key role on a variety of funding issues.  As a conservative, he was frugal with the state budget, but also felt a sense of compassion for less fortunate citizens who needed government help.  

Timms fought for Eastern Oregon where he lived and ran Big County Distributors, delivering beverages to stores and taverns along many remote Oregon roads.

One of my fondest memories of Gino dates back to the mid-1990s when, on behalf of Port of Portland, I was seeking the first installment of funds to pay Oregon's share of costs to deepen the Columbia River shipping channel.

Digging the channel from 40 feet to 43 feet along the full 90-mile transit from Portland to Astoria was a critical economic development tool for Oregon. Gino saw the statewide benefit, including for grain shippers in Eastern Oregon who relied on the Port of Portland to get their product to markets overseas.

As always with the state budget, we faced a difficult task to provide funds for a project that had not yet been fully approved by the other funders — the State of Washington and the federal government.  The construct we developed enabled us to put a contract provision in the channel deepening bill that required the state to follow up with funding if funding was approved in the State of Washington and in D.C., plus do so over multiple biennia. The contract provision enabled us to come as close as possible to bind future legislatures to continue making funding allocations.

The innovative language was the brain-child of Senator Timms and I was very happy to agree.

In the House, the channel deepening bill passed by about a 40-20 margin. The debate, with a carrying speech by then Representative John Watt, a Republican from Medford, and support from House Ways and Means Co-Chair Bob Repine, a Republican from Grants Pass, went on for more than an hour.

In the Senate, things were different.  There was almost no debate. Timms carried the bill and it passed easily in the early morning hours — probably about 2 or 3 a.m. as legislators were pushing toward adjournment. 

Many years later, I confess that I could not stay awake for the entire evening and morning, so returned early the next day to find Gino's carrying speech sitting on his desk at the back of the empty chamber. After making sure no one was looking, I reached over the barrier and got the speech, with its note that bill passed. 

Great news for the Port of Portland and all businesses depending on the Port.

As a lobbyist, I had to lobby a number of representatives in the House to support the bill.  In the Senate, I focused on one legislator. – Gene Timms.

I have been thinking a lot lately about legislators over my more than 30 years at the Capitol in Salem who had the political skill and courage to lead disparate interests — both other legislators and lobbyists alike — to find the smart middle ground on tough issues. Gino was clearly one such legislator.  He will be missed, but his commitment to the good of Eastern Oregon, as well as the good of the entire state, will live on.