Onions and people impress legislators touring Malheur County

State Rep. Margaret Doherty (left) along with Rep. Andrea Salinas toured the county last week for three days with their host, state Rep. Lynn Findley of Vale. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

ONTARIO – Two Democratic state lawmakers from Portland visited Malheur County last week and left impressed with the region and its people.

State Rep. Margaret Doherty, of Tigard, and state Rep. Andrea Salinas, of Lake Oswego, toured the county for three days at the invitation of state Rep. Lynn Findley, R-Vale.  

Findley said the trip “went very well.” 

The trip was part of a trade going on among state representatives, with rural and urban legislators taking turns visiting each other’s territory.

“We discussed a lot of issues facing eastern Oregon, from economic development to land use planning to financial competitiveness with our border states,” said Findley.

He led the two Democratic lawmakers to meetings with local elected leaders and on tours of area businesses such as Baker-Murakami Produce Co., an onion packer in Ontario. 

Salinas said the trip was “eye opening.”

“I didn’t realize what a stark contrast there was between the economic development opportunities in Malheur County and the economic activity already taking place in Boise,” said Salinas.

 “I was so impressed with the people. They do so much with so few resources,” said Salinas. “I think they are doing a lot of good things and there are a lot of smart people.”

Doherty said her strongest impression was the unity of each community in Malheur County.

“I found people who had been there a long time and people working together no matter what their political persuasion,” said Doherty.

Findley, the former Vale city manager, said he felt the two Portland-area lawmakers acquired an appreciation of the county’s challenges and successes.

“They understand that perhaps we have some unnecessary barriers we need to look at to remove to help businesses and our economy,” said Findley

Findley said he maintained a “pretty aggressive agenda” during the tour.

“We had breakfast meetings with community leaders, lunch meetings with agriculturists,” said Findley. “We toured agriculture fields, spent several hours with superintendents of school districts to talk about the issues affecting education.”

One important piece of the tour, said Findley, was the visit to Baker-Murakami.

“I knew you did onions, but I didn’t realize how many,” said Doherty.

For Salinas, the three-day trip showed her that Lake Oswego and Malheur County aren’t that far apart in terms of goals.

“The people of Malheur County want pretty much the same things people in my district want – good jobs, livable wages and good schools,” said Salinas.

Findley said Salinas and Doherty had not been to Malheur County before.

“We talked about that there are differences in development, agriculture and the taxing structure between Oregon and Idaho and sometimes we have trouble keeping people to stay in Oregon,” said Findley.

Findley said he wanted to convey two messages to the lawmakers during the tour – “that we take pride in eastern Oregon, that we are viable. We just need a little bit of help. We don’t want a handout but need a little help to be competitive with our neighbors across the river,” said Findley.

Findley said he also talked to the two lawmakers about unintended consequences.

“Sometimes bills are passed in western Oregon and make a lot of sense but have an adverse impact on eastern Oregon,” said Findley.

He said Salinas and Doherty were receptive.

“I believe they want to help us and understand what is good for us is good for Oregon,” said Findley.

Salinas, who serves on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, said she was glad she came to Malheur County.

“I was thrilled and happy and when I got back I was like ‘wow,’” said Salinas.

Salinas and Doherty were scheduled to host Findley this week as he tours their two districts. 

“I am excited about it,” said Findley.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.