First-time legislator Jami Cate is hoping to assist Oregon businesses which have been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cate, a Republican, easily won the general election to represent District 17 in the Oregon House of Representatives. She recently received her committee assignments and was pleased to see they reflected her main campaign goals.
She will serve as the vice chair of the Economic Recovery and Prosperity Committee and will also sit on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and the Wildfire Recovery Committee.
Cate said these assignments came later than usual as the process was disrupted by a challenge on the Democratic side over who will serve as House Speaker. In the end, Tina Kotek won a fifth term in the role.
The delay in committee assignments is just another hurdle in preparation for what will be a very unusual session. Legislative leaders have worked for months to design a session which meets social distancing guidelines while also providing transparency and the opportunity for public input.
These discussions have delayed the process, especially for new legislators, and Cate admits that she doesn’t feel as fully prepared as she would like to be.
“It’s been a lot of waiting and seeing. There’s really still not been clear decisions about what the session is going to look like,” Cate said. “Our offices aren’t set up, nothing. It’s a little crazy. I’m definitely a planner, I like to know exactly what to expect. It’s been a real challenge to learn to just go with the flow and be flexible.”
This is a preliminary week with legislators being sworn-in and other tasks fulfilled. The 2021 session is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, Jan. 19. Committee hearings will be held virtually. There will be in-person floor hearings, but most votes are being delayed until later in the session when the pandemic might be more under control.
Given this chaotic backdrop, Cate hopes the session will focus on critical needs.
“I hope it does keep us really focused on the matters at hand, the hurting that’s happening, and provide some real bipartisan efforts to get some help for our communities, our citizens, businesses, all of it. There’s so much hurting,” Cate said.
When asked what specific actions she supports to aid businesses, Cate said there have been hundreds of proposals. It will be the job of the committee to sift through these ideas to find the most useful. She is looking for targeted programs.
“It feels like there has been a lot of blanket help available that really hasn’t honed in on some of those pockets of people and businesses that have really been hit the hardest. I would like to see some more help that is more targeted to some of those groups,” Cate said.
The Oregon session begins under the shadow of the violence which occurred in the nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6. Cate said she understands that emotions have been running high, but she condemned the violence and destruction which occurred.
“At the end of the day, actions have consequences. I am the staunchest supporter of the freedom of speech and being able to go and protest, but when violence and destruction come into play,” Cate said.
She doesn’t think the public understands the costs which can be incurred following destructive incidents. As an example, she said that during the protests in Salem during the third special session in December, a door was broken at the Capitol.
This might seem relatively minor, but it caused a chain reaction which ultimately forced the delay of a construction project. The end result will be an increase of $1 million in the cost of the project, Cate said.
The unusual nature of this session will also delay the process of getting to know her new colleagues. Cate doesn’t want to miss out on building those relationships.
“Especially with a session that’s looking to be very virtual, it puts that much more emphasis on how critical relationships are … with the lobby, your constituents, but especially with your fellow legislators. No piece of legislation can pass by the efforts of one person. It really is a team effort,” Cate said.