Walker resigns

State Sen. Vicki Walker (D-Eugene) resigned from her seat on July 12 to accept an appointment to the state parole board by Gov. Ted Kulongoski. On the board, Walker will make more than $97,000 per year, much more than what she made as senator. Many media, including The Oregonian, speculated that Walker’s appointment might have been a favor from the governor, perhaps thanking Walker for not running against him in 2006.

Kulongoski circumvented the established procedure to appoint his fellow Democrat.

Instead of deferring to an interview panel made up of state officials, Kulongoski appointed Walker himself without her going before the committee. Kulongoski’s spokesperson, Anna Richter Taylor, said in July that the governor often receives advice from interview panels but keeps the search open for others.

Walker has more than 25 years of experience in the state government, and had filled the Senate seat since her election in 2002. In the 2006 Senate election, she ran against former Eugene mayor Jim Torrey, which led to a rocky and somewhat controversial race, spiked with misleading campaign ads.

Torrey supported Walker’s assignment to the parole board, predicting great success for her future in the chair. “She is a tenacious and hard-working woman,” Torrey said in July. “Although I may not always agree with her, I see her doing a great job on the board.” Torrey said he believes her choice to resign was solely based on a need for change, as well as a great opportunity to move up to another position.

Walker was known for her tenacity as a legislator, as well as her hard line on many law-and-order issues. She must wait for the Senate to confirm her in October before she can assume the position.

Edwards replaces Walker

In Walker’s place, the Lane County Board of Commissioners appointed former State Rep. Chris Edwards (D-Eugene).

Edwards was one of three candidates under consideration by the board, which nominated him unanimously at its Aug. 5 meeting. Edwards now represents a district that includes the majority of Eugene, including the district that elected him to the House and the portion represented by Rep. Nancy Nathanson.

Edwards’ beliefs resemble Walker’s, but he has a reputation for a more temperate style.

“I think that Edwards will have a more moderating influence in the Senate due to his history,” College Democrats President Ryan McCarrel said in August. “With a background in small business and a family in the timber industry, Edwards will be able to relate to both the rural and urban communities in his district, as well as both parties at the state level.”

Edwards told the Emerald in August that he will need to work harder in his new position.

“It’s going to be a big job to fill her shoes,” he said of Walker, shortly after accepting the nomination. “I’m going to start by walking door to door, introducing myself to the added district and listening to what they want to see happen in their community.” Edwards said he was looking forward to governing such a diverse district, which ranges from Junction City to the Santa Clara, Whiteaker and Cal Young neighborhoods.

Peter Courtney, State Senate president, expressed his support of Edwards’ appointment in an Aug. 5 press release. Courtney wrote that during his two terms in the House, “Edwards earned a reputation as a passionate advocate for his constituents. He’s willing to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get the job done … Edwards is good. He’s very good. He was made for the Senate.”

Edwards is known for his initiatives on K-12 education, health care and economic sustainability. In the Senate, he said he will continue working on the same measures, including the Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Technology Act unveiled earlier in the year.

Edwards left behind a House seat that Lane County Democrats have yet to fill.  He has declined to support any prospective candidate until the interested contenders officially announce their intent to run and he has had time to understand their standpoints. Several have declared their interest in filling Edwards’ now-vacant house seat.

Edwards was sworn in as Oregon’s newest state senator Sept. 2. He will officially fill the Senate seat in the 2010 legislative session beginning Feb. 1, and has informed commissioners that he plans to run for the seat again in the following November election.

Kulongoski vetoes OUS cuts

On Aug. 6, Gov. Ted Kulongoski followed through with his plans to restore $13.4 million of general funds to the public universities system, vetoing a bill that would have transferred that amount from higher education funding to state agencies.

The reinstated funding will enable Oregon University System campuses to reduce the estimated 2009-10 tuition by 1 percent. Plans of the governor’s veto were announced in July, prior to the State Board of Higher Education’s meeting to discuss tuition hikes.

In a letter to the state Justice Department explaining his veto, Kulongoski wrote: “I am deeply concerned that this provision would force the University system to raise tuition, which when combined with the underfunding of the Oregon Opportunity Grant program in the legislatively adopted budget, will operate to make higher education less accessible for many low-income and middle-income Oregonians.”

Di Saunders, director of communications at OUS, said that although Kulongoski’s decision keeps tuition increases slightly lower statewide, the overall OUS budget is still cut significantly. “The revenue forecast is the driver in the tuition hikes, predicting a continual drop of funding,” she said, “and unfortunately, students must make up for the loss through tuition and fees.”

Expected state tuition hikes for the upcoming fall terms range from 3.5 to 15.4 percent from fall 2008. Higher education is “in a much more dire situation than many state agencies,” Kulongoski spokesperson Anna Richter Taylor said in August. “It’s not unlikely they’ll have to make even bigger cuts.”

In addition to the Aug. 6 veto, Kulongoski also returned $6.3 million of funding to the Oregon judicial system from state agencies, saying the budget cut would jeopardize the branch’s ability to run an accessible and respectable court system.

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