Malheur County lawmaker sees another legislative session where Republicans will be forced to play defense

State Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, speaks to the Vale Chamber of Commerce in December. Bentz warned that more taxes are on the way as the Oregon Legislature convenes Jan. 22. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

VALE – State Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, said he will play political defense when the 2019 Legislature convenes Jan. 22.

The role isn’t new. Since he started his political career in 2008, the Drewsey lawmaker sat in the minority in Salem.

This session may be especially unique for Bentz and his political colleague in the House, Rep. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, because voters put three more Democrats in the House and one more in the Senate to create a supermajority. A supermajority means the Democrats do not need Republican votes in either chamber to pass legislation.

Speaking recently before the Vale Chamber of Commerce and in a subsequent interview, Bentz said voters in eastern Oregon can expect more taxes, including a new tariff to reduce the state’s carbon footprint.

Bentz said because of the Democrats’ dominance, one of his main goals will be to “keep bad things from happening” to eastern Oregon.

“You are constantly trying to point out well-meaning ideas might fit nicely in downtown Portland but don’t fit at all in downtown Adrian,” said Bentz. “Folks don’t know the impact of their well-intentioned ideas have on rural Oregon.”

With the legislative tilt so heavily to one party, Bentz is counting on his committee seats to make a difference. Much of the heavy political lifting in Salem occurs in committees where Democrats and Republicans hash out differences and alter legislation.

Bentz will be on six committees. He will be vice chair of the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee and co-vice chair of the Joint Carbon Reduction Committee. He has also been named to Senate committees on judiciary, transportation and the environment.

“I am happy with the committees I have ended up on because I have a chance to weigh in on some of the many new taxes that the Democratic supermajority will be passing,” said Bentz.

He also plans to focus on safeguarding water and creating opportunities for housing in rural areas.

Bentz said protecting water rights is important for a rural, agriculture area like Malheur County.

“My goal is to make sure we are not setting ourselves up for a damaging future as we try to work in a state that faces less water,” said Bentz, adding that how “you move water around is very important.”

“There are many who would like to change the rules so when you take your water and move it, they want to put some of it back in a stream. That can be very damaging to us,” said Bentz.

Bentz said he would oppose any “water tax imposed where part of your water goes away just because you wanted to move it from one part of your farm to another.”

Bentz said creating more housing opportunities for rural Oregonians is important but the focus shouldn’t be limited to building new structures.

“It is not a question of adding huge numbers of big houses to rural Oregon but looking at how old the houses we already have are. You shift the focus away from the underlying assumption all housing must be new,” said Bentz.

Bentz said creating incentives for homeowners to repair and refurbish existing structures is one way to address rural housing.

Bentz said the Democratic supremacy in the November election should be a wakeup call for Republicans in Oregon.

He said voter priorities in Oregon don’t match traditional Republican concerns.

While Republicans focused on fighting taxes, protecting gun rights, and opposing abortion, most of Oregon’s voters appeared to focus on education and the environment.

That disparity, said Bentz, is troubling for Republicans.

 “What it means is that Oregon Republican Party must figure out if it wants to be relevant,” he said.