WILBUR — Hundreds of truckers from around Douglas County and beyond departed for Salem early Thursday to protest a piece of legislation they believe threatens their livelihood.
Along the way, they were met with more truckers waiting to join the procession at every freeway entrance along the way to Salem, said Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice.
“I thought the turnout was fantastic. I thought the Douglas County representation was even better than that, and it was really good to see rural Oregon have a voice. Obviously, this was a big priority for folks who live in rural Oregon,” he said.
A convoy of logging and utility trucks departed from Gene Whitaker Trucking in Wilbur at close to 4:30 a.m. Thursday for a demonstration at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem. The rally was to protest House Bill 2020, a bill designed to reduce the state’s greenhouse gasses to 45% below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.
Loggers and drivers who headed north from the Roseburg area said the legislation would put their paychecks at risk.
“This is our job,” said Ed Turner, a Gene Whitaker Trucking employee who was one of the final drivers to leave the company’s depot in Wilbur. “If this bill passes, it’s going to have a trickle-down effect. It’ll start with the major corporations ... who’ll start dwindling down to nothing, and that’s really going to affect us. That’s why we need to make a stand in front of our government.”
Turner said protesters from Oregon, California, Idaho and Washington planned to join up at the rally.
The company’s Facebook page said the convoy planned to leave from the Gene Whitaker Trucking depot for Salem at 5 a.m. in time for the start of the protest at 7 a.m. By 4:30 a.m., a line of trucks extended close to 1 mile south from the entrance of the depot, with many more lined up north of that. At 4:35 a.m., the dozens of trucks that filled the parking lot at the meet-up site began to filter into the line of trucks.
As the convoy departed for Salem, horns from nearly every truck blared together in unison.
“We are a tight-knit group of guys and gals,” Turner said. “We stand together on a lot of things.”
He added that “the support from people that aren’t in this industry” has been one of the most refreshing pieces of feedback he’s heard. “That’s why everyone has joined together to take a stand,” he said.
As the convoy grew and came closer to Salem, Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice posted on Facebook that it had extended in length to 13 miles long.
Boice told The News-Review that protesters easily numbered in the thousands in Salem from around the state. He said the turnout from this area was also high. He said he left at 4:30 a.m. but there were trucks still leaving until almost 6 a.m.
Boice and Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin spoke at the rally. Hanlin spoke about the history of Oregon and growing up in the state. Dallas Heard’s father, Dick Heard, delivered a speech on the senator’s behalf. Commissioner Tom Kress also attended the rally.
Boice said he was particularly impressed with a sign carried by a little girl around 7 years old. It read, “Senator Peter — I don’t want to move to town and get your green job! Let me decide my future.”
Organizer Kalvin Heard of Roseburg, the younger brother of Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Winston, said the trucks had quite an impact arriving in Salem at the morning rush hour.
“It was quite the traffic jam there for a while,” he said.
However, he said they received a warmer reception than he expected, with some local drivers rolling down their windows to give a thumbs up to the protesters. Dallas Heard is one of 11 Republican senators who walked out of the legislature and went into hiding to prevent a vote on HB 2020.
“There was such a mountain of trucks, from all industry. It was the most beautiful thing about it. It wasn’t just logging that was there,” Kalvin Heard said.
He said there were also many agricultural tractors of all kinds.
“And they were running them around with the trucks in Salem. It wasn’t just that they were parked and they just brought ‘em to show,” he said.
He said the rally really showed the missing senators how much support they have. He also said what he saw there was “just a lot of people wanting to save their jobs and wanting to keep Oregon the way it is.”
Democratic Senate President Peter Courtney signaled Tuesday that Democrats, who hold a supermajority, did not have the votes to pass the bill.
Jon Mitchell is a page designer, photographer and writer for The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4214, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @byJonMitchell.