Here’s a short quiz for those interested in the future of Oregon: What would you guess is the critical focus of the Oregon Legislature during its first weeks of a new session?

A. A failing education system that has an abysmal K-12 graduation rate and no world-class universities?

B. Rural and child poverty rates that are some of the worst in the nation?

C. The shutdown of the Port of Portland’s container terminal that will deal a huge blow to our economy and take Oregon out of the global export business?

D. The unhealthy federal forests and the catastrophic fires and greenhouse gas emissions they produce every summer?

E. A funding mechanism and plan to improve our crumbling roads and transportation infrastructure?

F. None of the above

Unfortunately the answer is F, which is consistent with the grade I’d give our leadership in Oregon this new year. So we have a new Governor and she deserves a chance to stem the tide of legislation that gives no support to Oregon’s economic and social needs. We’ll just see…

The legislature has been caught up in a debate over a clean fuels bill that will hurt businesses and does little to reduce Oregon’s environmental footprint. Imposing increased biofuels into our life will not make even a marginal difference on climate change, but will make activities like transporting materials or ethanol from the Midwest a favored activity. Environmental organizations around the world are now questioning whether the land use and transportation necessary for increased biofuel production will actually worsen climate change. The DEQ and AAA Oregon/Idaho both estimate “conservatively” that the bill could bump gas prices significantly. Aren’t there more important things for the Legislature to focus on? Guess not since the Oregon House passed the bill by one vote and it’s on Governor Brown’s desk. Latest news is that she will sign the bill this week.

As an Oregon native, I grew up respecting such leaders as Governors Tom McCall, Victor Atiyeh and Bob Straub, and Senator Mark Hatfield. These individuals understood that businesses could thrive, people could earn a good living and yet we could still make progress on improving our environment. We have made fantastic progress on the air and water quality in my lifetime in Oregon, yet there is constant pressure by some small groups to beef up regulations on business because they get rewarded by creating these supposed crises in the environment.

We should keep making progress on initiatives to improve our environment, but in gradual steps that allow creativity from businesses and individuals to adapt. Oregon used to be known for individual freedom, independent thinking and as a great place to raise a family. I fear a bias against business and focus on idealistic regulations has created a state where businesses of any magnitude can’t afford to pay family wages and don’t earn enough profit to pay the taxes to support public services and make the donations that support our charitable causes and arts and culture.

Now, more than ever, we need leaders who will step up with moderate ideas to make Oregon a state where families and the middle class can thrive. There is nothing wrong with idealism, but let’s use some common sense and enact practical solutions that benefit our entire state.

Steve Zika
CEO, Hampton Lumber