Cliff Bentz, Ontario attorney, discusses his election to be U.S. representative in Oregon's 2nd Congressional District in an interview on Thursday, Nov. 5. (The Enterprise/Les Zaitz)
ONTARIO – Cliff Bentz is going to get pretty used to the Boise Airport following his election last week to Congress.
Bentz, an attorney and longtime public official, will serve as U.S. representative starting in January, succeeding the retiring Greg Walden. His cross-country commutes from his Congressional office back to his Oregon district will take him through the airport, an hour’s drive from Ontario.
The first announcement of Oregon election results on Tuesday, Nov. 3, had Bentz well ahead of his Democratic opponent, Alex Spenser of Klamath Falls. Bentz ultimately won with 60% of the vote.
Bentz was at his Ontario home election night with his wife, Lindsay Norman, brothers Andy and Kenny, and a few others when the results made it clear he was heading for Congress.
And then the phone started to ring.
First to call with congratulations was Walden, who has held the 2nd Congressional District seat since 1998.
Second was U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-California, the minority leader in the House who campaigned in Oregon for Bentz.
Between congratulatory calls, Bentz squeezed in appearances on six television stations around the district.
And he is already at work to prepare for his new job. He is scheduled to fly to Washington, D.C., this Thursday for a 10-day trip to sort out office, staffing and living arrangements. He has 19 staff jobs to fill and district offices to establish.
Bentz is already angling for committee assignments he thinks will benefit his largely rural district. He is seeking seats on either the House Natural Resources Committee or the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Another Oregon Congressman, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Eugene, chairs the Transportation Committee.
Republicans gained new seats in the House in the election, which Bentz said opens more committee seats for Republicans.
“That’s really good news for us,” Bentz said.
Walden has introduced Bentz to the top Republican leaders in the House to help.
“He’s just been invaluable to me,” Bentz said.
He said he has work to understand why about one out of three voters didn’t support him. He surmises that some of the votes for his Democratic opponent reflected a vote against President Donald Trump. He said he intends to learn more about those who didn’t support him.
“When it comes to representing folks who are Democrats, how do we identify those things that everybody agrees on and work on them?” Bentz said.
He said voters across the district seem to agree about the need to improve infrastructure and to resolve the still-contentious water issues in the Klamath Basin.
He noted that most voters in the district are not affiliated with either major political party.
“Finding out what those people in the district need and want is terribly important,” Bentz said. “They are the ones that appear to be the least involved in the process.”
Bentz said the apparent election of former Vice President Joe Biden changes his calculus for being effective in Washington.
“It changes one thing significantly – the ability to go to government agencies and know you have the support from the top all the way down,” Bentz said.
Trump tweeted out support for Bentz during the campaign and Bentz said he would expect that if Trump remained president, his administration would be receptive to requests for help with agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
“It’s not likely I’ll be able to call and say, ‘Hey, President Biden’” to seek help, Bentz said.
He said he’s concerned that a Biden administration will pursue some environmental regulation to reduce carbon emissions, a move Bentz fought in the Oregon Senate. Bentz said such regulation can make energy more costly for rural Oregonians.
He’s also concerned with a Biden tax proposal that would change the tax rate for certain entities, resulting in what Bentz said would be possibly higher taxes for business owners.
“Those kinds of things are going to have an impact on small business across rural Oregon,” Bentz said.
He is aware of Biden’s pledge to unify the country but “I don’t know if these problems are going to be solved anytime soon.”
He was critical of the rush to declare Biden the winner, urging that the election and legal process should unfold to a clear conclusion.
“What everybody should understand is that it is absolutely essential that the people on the losing side believe that this process was one that had zero question about its integrity,” Bentz said.
Bentz will be the 15th person to represent the 2nd Congressional District and the first new face in Oregon’s Congressional delegation since 2012. The district was formed out of the 1890 Census and its first Congressman was William Ellis, who was school superintendent and then district attorney in Heppner before going to Congress in 1893. He served until 1899 and returned in 1907 for one more term.
Bentz, 68, is an Oregon native who is a partner in the Ontario law firm of Yturri Rose. He has served on the Ontario School Board, in the Oregon House and the Oregon Senate. He married Lindsey Norman in 1987. She is a veterinarian who owns and runs the Ontario Animal Hospital. They have two children.
Contact Editor Les Zaitz by email at [email protected]
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