SALEM — The tempo of Trump administration appointments in Oregon has received a long-awaited jump start, but two key top jobs remain open 10 months after the president took office.
Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, was named late Friday as Rural Development state director for Oregon. Peggy Browne, of Baker City, a former vice president of the Oregon Farm Bureau, was named Farm Services Agency director for the state. Both positions are in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Huffman resigned his seat to take the job. The 59th House District he represented includes northern Deschutes County, Jefferson County, Wheeler County and part of Wasco County.
Mike Shirtcliff, a Redmond Republican who is CEO of Advantage Dental, has announced he will seek the appointment to replace Huffman.
Huffman and Browne were the first major Oregon appointees named by Trump since he took office in January. He has still not announced his nominees for the top two federal law enforcement jobs in Oregon.
The acting U.S. attorney, Billy Williams, and acting U.S. Marshal Russ Berger continue to manage their respective offices.
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, the only Republican in the Oregon congressional delegation, has been the conduit for nominees. His office has declined comment on the process.
Huffman announced in early March he would seek the Agriculture Department job. At the same time, House Republican Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, said he was a candidate for the U.S. attorney job.
At the time, news reports said McLane was under consideration, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Bounds and Klamath County District Attorney Rob Patridge, who was also chair of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates both alcohol and legalized marijuana.
Patridge dropped out of contention when he resigned his government positions for a job at Deloitte, the international auditing and consulting firm. Willamette Week reported Patridge is specializing in consulting on the burgeoning legal marijuana industry.
Bounds, whose family has had long political connections with Walden, was nominated over the summer to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, the 29-judge appellate court for nine Western U.S. states.
Last week, the federal appointment logjam showed signs of breaking. The Trump administration announced the appointment of Farm Services Agency directors and Rural Development directors for all 50 states. It also announced seven U.S. attorney nominees in California, Maryland, Connecticut, New Mexico and Louisiana and two in Texas.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, has criticized the Trump’s slowness is filling federal positions in Oregon, saying constituents complained they sometimes could not track down which office or person to speak to about issues. “There’s nobody home,” Wyden said last month.
Frustrated by the delays, Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley, also a Democrat, wrote White House counsel Donald McGahn in mid-August, suggesting Trump retain Williams and Berger. The letter noted Berger is a Republican and Williams is unaffiliated in party registration.
“On the recommendation of their peers (in) law enforcement, we hope the administration will re-appoint Mr. Berger and Mr. Williams for the remainder of the President’s term in office,” Wyden and Merkley wrote.
Wyden spokesman Hank Stern said Monday the senators “haven’t heard anything” since they sent the letter.
While endorsing Berger and Williams, the two Democratic senators have questioned the nomination of Bounds to the 9th Circuit. They have called for a deeper review of Bounds’ credentials and background.
The Senate must approve the nomination as part of its “advise and consent” power on major appointments. Traditionally, the Senate has not moved on nominations until they get a green light from the home-state senators.
Traditionally, two judges on the 9th Circuit are from Oregon. Republicans in the Senate have said Trump may bypass Wyden and Merkley by dropping Bounds and nominating a judicial candidate from among the other eight states covered by the 9th Circuit. Idaho and Alaska are represented by two Republican senators.
Since the original trio of names for U.S. attorney were floated in spring, Wally Hicks, who represented Josephine County in the state House from 2011 to 2015, has told the Portland Tribune he is under consideration for the job.
McLane has said he will run for re-election if he is not appointed and confirmed as U.S. attorney. McLane declined to comment Monday on his current status.
Questions over McLane’s future come as his counterpart, Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, says he will resign for an appointment on the regional power authority. Democrats need to pick up just one seat in the House and Senate in the 2018 election for supermajorities that would allow them to pass financial bills, including tax increases, without any Republican votes.
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