© 2022 Tootie Smith for Oregon. All Rights Reserved.

Standing Up for Our Essential Workers

As chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, I take much responsibility for what happens with the county, its residents and its employees.

The governor’s most recent COVID related mandates drew my attention because of their potential impacts on the hard-working people who help us provide services to every man, woman and child in Clackamas County. Of particular concern was the impacts on our brave public safety employees and our heroes in the health care sector.

I wanted to have a strong resolution from the Board of County Commissioners to present to the governor at a meeting she had scheduled with county board chairs from throughout the state. Our board spent two weeks working on it and we came up with a draft resolution.

Having received input from my fellow commissioners, I put the draft resolution on the agenda for the Board of County Commissioners’ Business Meeting held on September 23. My fellow commissioners had ample opportunities to submit any changes they wanted to see well in advance of that meeting.

The resolution simply and clearly stated the county’s determination to continue having its public health department offer free and accessible COVID vaccinations to anyone who wants them. It also requested that the state reevaluate the terms of the vaccine mandate to consider all options that could prevent further exhaustion and departure of core public service providers. That includes an extension of the deadline for those employees to be fully vaccinated, regular COVID tested, religious and medical exemptions and recognition of effective, proven technologies in the workplace.

It also states the board’s determination to advocate the state legislature to allow for the easy transferrable licensure agreements between sates for healthcare providers. The resolution also urged the governor to engage in listening sessions with the business community and public to hear directly about these workforce issues.

In short, the intention of those resolution was to express the board’s support for policies that can keep first responders and medical personnel on the job.

Commissioner Paul Savas had offered up the language in the revised draft. On the day of the meeting, I stated my support for the resolution and the reasons why it is necessary. Some sectors of our workforce are feeling overwhelmed, and we need to do everything we can to keep those professionals from leaving their positions. They’ve been our heroes for the last year and a half, and we must offer solutions to mitigate the impacts on our service delivery system.

I felt, and still feel, that extending the deadline was reasonable. A similar extension was given to state employees, so it made sense to me that county workers should receive the same courtesy. It was also important to me that the sheriff’s office deputies who work at our jail have basic workplace protections.

The audience members in attendance expressed their clear support for the resolution.

A motion was made to adopt the resolution, and it was seconded. But even though they had weeks to make any changes they wanted to see, some of my fellow commissioners backed down from supporting it at the last minute.

One objected to the use of the word “mandate.” Another said that he couldn’t support the resolution, which he himself largely wrote, unless the vote would be unanimous. This was nothing but a pure political cop out.

I stated that throughout the process, I gave in and compromised and didn’t see the willingness of other commissioners to do the same.

The resolution didn’t pass, and the board lost a critical opportunity to stand up for its most essential workers.

However, this disappointing setback will not deter me from seeking ways to continue doing so as the board’s chair.

Farmers, Loggers, Ranchers and Truckers Are Essential

I’ve long admired the pioneer spirit that founded Oregon, as well as the industries that brought people to this region in the first place. And as much as society and the world have changed since then, our natural resource industries are still a critical part of the state’s economy.

Even though we’ve seen the advent of technology, tourism and other industries, Oregon and Clackamas County still their fair share of people working off of the land. I’m happy to say that I’m one of them.

I grew up on a farm in the south part of Clackamas County. That experience taught me hard work, independence and self-sufficiency, qualities which have served me well. It also inspired me to get my start in the public policy arena, where one of my first positions was an executive director of the Oregon Lands Coalition.

To this day, my husband and I are the proud owners of Meadowbrook Hill Farm. We live in a log cabin home that we built ourselves.

I know what it’s like to wake up early to handle the many tasks and duties that are involved with running farm operations. Logging and farming are also labors of love, and I have the utmost respect for people working in those professions.

During my two terms in the Oregon House of Representatives, I fought hard for the farmers, ranchers, loggers and other natural resource workers in my district and statewide. My voting record was one of strong support for private property rights and the ability of citizens to use their land as they see fit.

When the Timber Unity movement started last year in response to cap and trade legislation that would have devastated rural Oregon, I stood in solidarity with the members of its grassroots organization. Due to my longtime support of our vital natural resource industries, my candidacy for chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners has been endorsed by Timber Unity. I wear that endorsement as a badge of honor.

In these challenging and unprecedented times, we’ve been reminded of just how important those natural resource industries are. Equally important are the trucks and their drivers who deliver those products to market. Can you imagine how difficult things would be right now if cap and trade had passed? It would have created hardships for many of the trucking companies who are now working overtime to make sure that the food our farmers grow can get to customers. That awful legislation threatened those same farmers, ranchers and loggers that our economy so desperately needs.

I’m proud to have the support of Timber Unity and will represent our farmers, ranchers, truckers and loggers….all of whom are absolutely essential to our economy and way of life.