Although the contest of wills between Republicans and Democrats absorbed a lot of oxygen during the 2019 legislative session, there was a lot of other business taking place underneath the surface of that conflict.
Perhaps most notable for the Southwest Oregon senate district represented by Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Winston, was the fact that this was a banner year for legislative funding of projects that will boost the local economy.
Chief among these is $10 million in funding for an allied health college that will be operated by George Fox University and offer bachelor’s and advanced degrees in nursing, counseling, physical therapy and other fields. The hope is that this college, to be located in Roseburg, will boost the economy, transform the town’s appearance, and help turn around the desperate shortage of rural health professionals.
Other big projects receiving funding include money for an industrial technology building at Umpqua Community College and an emergency room in Brookings.
Heard said he and the two House representatives in his district, Gary Leif, R-Roseburg, and David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, worked as a team to get the projects funded.
One disappointment this session is that funding for a state veterans home on the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus did not receive funding.
Heard said it was important for him to focus on the other projects as priorities, because needed federal funding for the veterans home project was not going to come through.
However, he said he does hope to work with the federal congressional delegation to get the Roseburg vets home pushed higher on the federal priority list. Once that’s done, he said, he can push for the state funding match in a future session.
Heard said he made the college funding his priority, and although he initially asked for more, he said he believes the state’s $10 million combined with the city of Roseburg’s pledge to match that amount is about two-thirds of what’s needed to start the project. He said he believes the rest of the money will be generated from other sources in the next few weeks, but wouldn’t yet name names.
“We’ve got our major pieces in play now to where we will be moving forward. At some point here in the very near future, the start gun will go off and we’ll be pushing forward into the reality stage of it,” he said.
Heard said the college will transform Roseburg. People driving through will see a beautiful college, he said, and the economy will be diversified. While Roseburg will still be the timber capital of the world, it will also be a college town, he said.
There will be good paying jobs, a reason for local people to stay here. There will be opportunities for veterans to use their G.I. Bill funds to study here and then take jobs at the VA.
“This region’s going to see the sun rise on it again,” Heard said.
Heard also said once the college is in place and its graduates are filling up the VA’s vacancies, it will be easier to persuade the federal government to fund the veterans home.
Roseburg VA Director Keith Allen said he couldn’t comment on funding for either the college or the veterans home because he can’t comment on pending legislation.
However, he did forward a letter from former interim director David Whitmer, who wrote to Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs Senior Policy Advisor Laurie Skillman about the VA’s support for the allied health college.
Whitmer wrote that the VA had 253 vacancies, 87 of them for registered nurses. He said the college would help them fill such vacancies and increase access for veteran patients.
“As a major employer of medical personnel, the VA’s interest is in having a pipeline of future employees who can care for the Nation’s heroes,” Whitmer wrote.
While bringing home the bacon was a big part of the session for Heard, so was his participation in the walkout by 11 Republican senators. Unlike the others, most of whom headed to Idaho, Heard traveled with his family to California. He declined to be more specific than that.
Heard said he spent most of his time on the phone, talking to other Republican legislators. He also worked on the funding items like the $10 million for the college, which was pushed through in the final weekend after the Republicans returned. And he helped organize the rally in Salem against the cap and trade climate legislation in House Bill 2020.
Steve Loosley, former owner of Roseburg Paving, current UCC board chairman and a volunteer in Heard’s office, said he saw Heard emerge as a leader in his party this session.
Loosley was involved in the early discussions about creating the allied health college here, back in 2012. Despite his involvement with UCC, he doesn’t see a conflict. That’s because he believes the two colleges will be complementary, with the UCC offering two-year programs that will feed into the four-year and graduate programs at the George Fox satellite.
Heard, he said, was “just the right person at the right time to really bring this home for our community.”
Heard said he was motivated by a quote from runner Steve Prefontaine. Heard’s father Dick Heard was on the University of Oregon track team with Prefontaine, and Prefontaine once told him if a race came down to willpower he would always win. More famously, he said, “Somebody may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it. I’m going to work so that it’s a pure guts race at the end and if it is, I am the only one who can win it. To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
“It’s kind of like what Henry Ford said, and I live by this one too, ‘Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right,’” Dallas Heard said.
In addition to the funding for the allied health college, the legislature funded this session:
- $8.1 million for an industrial technology building at UCC. This building will hold the automotive, welding and manufacturing programs.
- $2 million to open an emergency room in the Curry Medical Center in Brookings.
- $1.7 million for prevention of sudden oak death, which hopes to halt the spread of a disease that’s killing native tanoak trees.
- $1.6 million to redevelop the Port Orford Cannery.
- $650,000 for electric vehicle charging stations, a project known as the West Coast Electric Highway.