ONTARIO – Gov. Tina Kotek said last week she wants to generate an atmosphere of cooperation and seek solutions to the state’s most pressing challenges, including important issues that impact eastern Oregon.
Kotek visited Ontario Wednesday, July 19, where she met with a variety of stakeholders, local officials and residents to gather input as part of her campaign commitment to visit every county in Oregon during her first year in office.
Dubbed a “the One Oregon listening tour” the governor’s short half-day visit to Malheur County was part of a larger political swing that included Baker, Grant and Harney counties.
Kotek didn’t deviate from her key campaign themes and talked about housing, mental health and education.
Her day began with a gathering at the Plaza Inn in Ontario, where she met with Vale Mayor Tom Vialpando, Ontario Mayor Debbie Folden, Dan Joyce, Malheur County judge and city councilors from across county. She then listened to a briefing from the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board at Treasure Valley Community College.
Kotek, along with then-Rep Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, was a key supporter of the border board. Bentz is now serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. The border board was created in 2017 to spark economic growth in Malheur County along the border with Idaho. The board offers grant and loan programs
Shawna Peterson, the board’s executive director, narrated a PowerPoint presentation for Kotek that addressed solutions for housing shortages, the area homeless crisis, education and work forces availability and livability along the border region.
“I felt like she was very engaged. She continues to see a big future for the border board, including taking some of the work the border board has done and translating it across the state,” said Peterson.
Kotek’s overall message – one carefully crafted during her campaign – hasn’t changed. The big priority for the state and eastern Oregon remains developing more housing and finding a solution to the homeless challenge.
The challenge, she said, impacts every part of the state and requires unique solutions tailored to specific areas.
“One size does not fit all,” said Kotek. “If the state can make adjustments, I want to make that happen.”
Kotek said she’s heard concern about workforce housing in eastern Oregon.
“This is a listening tour about what we can do better,” said Kotek.
She said there might be more weight placed by her office on finding a solution to the workforce housing issue in eastern Oregon than in Willamette Valley.
The governor also said the rising cost of living is “an issue for way too many Oregonians.”
Another key message for Kotek was her goal to find answers to a variety challenges across the state.
“You have to build trust and show progress,” said Kotek. “I have a lot of faith for Oregonians to work together and solve problems.”
Vialpando said the breakfast session at the Plaza Inn was rewarding. He said he discussed local homelessness and future funding for the unhoused.
He said the governor made an immediate impression.
“We had mentioned we could sit back in the conference room. She didn’t want to do that. She wanted to sit out with the general public, right in the middle. I thought that was great,” he said.
Vialpando said Kotek was attentive.
“She took notes and hopefully they will follow up on the things we discussed,” said Vialpando.
Folden said the governor is “very interested in Malheur County and eastern Oregon.”
“She was very interested in if we had enough water. She seemed very in-tune,” said Folden.
Folden said Kotek delivered a message of unity.
“She is very interested in finding solutions. She was very down to earth and it was a very positive meeting,” said Folden.
Folden she chatted with the governor about Ontario’s homeless issue.
“Her view is maybe there is a way to work together to get some extra money,” said Folden.
Vialpando said Kotek planned to seek more funding for homeless during the Legislature’s short session next year.
In January, Kotek issued an executive order and rolled out a statewide homelessness state of emergency. In March, she announced that Malheur County was eligible to be included in the statewide emergency. Later that month, she signed two legislation that earmarked $200 million to the homeless crisis.
News tip: Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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