By Lauren Brown
An impromptu meeting between Harney County officials and democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton could result in the renewal of a senate bill, which would reauthorize the Secure Rural School and Community Self-Determination Act, giving county roads and Harney County schools some much needed money.
In a rare nod to the east side of the state, County Judge Steve Grasty and Harney School District No. 3 Superintendent David Courtney were invited to meet with New York Senator and presidential candidate Clinton while she was campaigning in Oregon last weekend.
Grasty and Courtney received calls on Thursday, April 3, that Sen. Ron Wyden’s office was setting up a meeting with Clinton before her rally on Saturday at South Eugene High School.
Grasty arrived in Eugene at 1 a.m. in the morning, driving through blizzard conditions on the mountain pass. Courtney arrived around 9 a.m. Saturday morning. At 11 a.m. they arrived at the high school where they had to go through security. They were then taken to a holding room where they waited with other county, health and law enforcement officials for about two hours.
Originally, they were told that they would have about 15 minutes with the senator before the rally, but because the senator was running late, it turned into three minutes. The judge and superintendent were prepared to make a case for renewing the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, but Grasty said the senator had clearly been briefed beforehand on the situation. “I was impressed with how much she knew,” Grasty said. “She came into the room pro-timber money.”
In fact, Clinton said she would co-sponsor the bill herself. The renewal of timber receipts would heavily impact the community, providing money for the school district as well as funds for county roads. Last year, the county received about $900,000 in timber receipts.
Judge Grasty noted that the county road department is almost entirely dependent on timber money. Superintendent Courtney said that the school district’s budget is currently about $1 million in the red. Both could benefit immensely from timber money.
Grasty said that unfortunately, the state won’t know if the bill has been reauthorized until May, so the county will have to figure its budget without the timber receipts. However, if the renewal goes through, they can always plug the money back in.
Both Grasty and Courtney wished they could have had a longer audience with Clinton. Courtney gave her a document showing the history of timber receipts in the district, while Grasty gave her a copy of the “Where’s Our Future” photo taken of children standing among burned trees after last summer’s wildfires. “This is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a presidential candidate,” Grasty said. “Just the opportunity to talk with one of the candidates at this late stage was really something.”
Grasty noted that all of those running for office including republican nominee John McCain and democratic candidate Barack Obama will have influence in politics either as president or as senators, so it is important to embrace every opportunity to talk with them. He said that the state is working on getting east side officials a meeting with McCain as well. The chance has probably already passed with Obama, who visited Oregon last month.