First-term senator is off and running

By Pat Caldwell, Observer correspondent February 04, 2013 10:55 am

Bill Hansell
Bill Hansell

By Pat Caldwell / Observer correspondent 

After more than 25 years in politics, the words “rookie legislator” would not generally be associated with Bill Hansell.

Yet Hansell, the first-term senator from Oregon’s District 29, is the first to admit he is, to some extent, entering uncharted territory as he gears up for the 2013 Oregon Legislative session. Oregon Senate District 29 consists of Wallowa, Union, Umatilla, Morrow, Gilliam, Sherman and part of Wasco counties. The Oregon Legislature kicked off its 2013 session today.

“I’m the rookie on the team,” Hansell said.

While new to the Oregon Legislature, Hansell is a veteran lawmaker. Hansell will step into the Oregon Senate with more than eight terms as a Umatilla County Commissioner under his belt. That experience at the local level — where often hometown, flashpoint issues are solved through a process of pragmatic compromise — is one key element to Hansell’s overall viewpoint on politics.

“If you can build bridges, I think you’ll see we can get things done,” Hansell said.

All of the Eastern Oregon Legislators face a seemingly stark playing field in terms of influence at the Capitol. That reality is connected directly to numbers. There are fewer legislators from Eastern Oregon compared to other portions of the state, and the fact they are all Republicans adds another dimension to the political equation. Now, Republicans are a minority party in both the Oregon House of Representatives and the Senate. 

Democrats hold a 34-26 advantage in the House and a narrow, but significant, lead of 16-14 in the Senate. 

Hansell, though, said he is optimistic regarding the upcoming lawmaker session. He said one key challenge will revolve around the traditional balancing act regarding budget priorities.

“The big issue will be finding the resources to fund the services people want,” he said.

And, Hansell said, the funding pie isn’t as big as it once was.

“Ninety percent of the budget is taken up by education, health and human services and the criminal justice system,” he said.

That scenario means the demarcation line between what is necessary and what can possibly be discarded within the state budget is narrow.

“(Funding programs) will be the single biggest challenge. Every program has its advocates,” Hansell said. “We have got to find a way to balance it all out.”

Hansell said he will not support any effort to raise taxes but said there remains plenty of room for compromise on a host of other issues.

“We just need to make sure what we do fund is sustainable,” he said.

In terms of other priorities, Hansell said his focus revolves around a key cog in the Eastern Oregon economic machine — natural resources.

“We’ve got to get people back to work and the way you do that is doing what we do best, concentrate on natural resources,” he said.

Hansell said he is dedicated to