By Scott Hammers
State Rep. Gene Whisnant announced Monday he will not seek re-election next year.
A Sunriver Republican, Whisnant has represented District 53, which covers most of Deschutes County outside of Bend, since 2003.
Whisnant’s decision marks the third shakeup for Central Oregon’s delegation in Salem in recent months. Republican Knute Buehler, who represents District 54 in Bend, is campaigning for governor and will not seek re-election to the House in 2018. John Huffman, whose District 59 seat stretches from Crooked River Ranch to The Dalles, resigned in October to seek a job in the Trump administration.
Whisnant, 73, entered the state House in 2003, when Sen. Bev Clarno resigned to take a job with the George W. Bush administration.
Rep. Ben Westlund was appointed to fill Clarno’s seat, and in turn, Whisnant was appointed to the seat that had been held by Westlund.
Whisnant said Monday he’s proud of his work in Salem over the years, but added there’s plenty of room to improve the way the statehouse runs. He said Oregonians would be better served by a more professional Legislature that spends more time in session and compensates its members accordingly.
Oregon’s Legislature used to meet every two years, but since 2011, it has met for 160 days in odd-numbered years and 35 days in even-numbered years. Whisnant said although meeting each year was a step in the right direction, the short sessions are too brief for lawmakers to fully consider and pass important legislation.
Legislators are paid $22,260 a year, a sum Whisnant said does not reflect the amount of work they put in and most likely discourages promising would-be candidates.
“People don’t realize the time commitment,” he said. “It’s not just 160 days and 35 days; it’s a full-time, 24/7 job.”
As a Republican, Whisnant has been in the minority for most of his time in Salem — Republicans held the majority during the 2005-06 session, and shared control of the Legislature in 2011-12, when voters sent 30 Republicans and 30 Democrats to Salem.
Whisnant said party divisions have become sharper since he first came to Salem. The divide is a particular frustration for lawmakers in the minority party like him, he said, but both Democrats and Republicans could do a better job of coming together.
“I think the Legislature has become more and more partisan,” he said. “I think it’s become more difficult to try and work across the aisle.”
Whisnant said he and his wife, Josie, plan to stay in Sunriver. He said he’s looking forward to playing more golf and making fewer trips over Santiam Pass going back and forth from Salem.
Buehler issued a statement Monday afternoon praising Whisnant.
“Rep. Whisnant has been a great leader for Central Oregon and has always made representing Oregonians his top priority,” Buehler said in a written statement. “The Legislature will miss his leadership, dedication and wisdom. I will miss his friendship but wish him and Josie the very best in their retirement.”
No candidates have yet filed to run in District 53 next year. Whisnant said the Republican caucus in Salem has been working to identify potential candidates to join the race but declined to name names.
— Reporter: 541-383-0387, email@example.com