SALEM — Jack Zika is settling in, but not getting too comfortable in his new job.
The Redmond real estate agent was sworn in Monday as the new representative for House District 53. The doughnut-shaped district encircles Bend, taking in a sliver of the city but also stretching from Redmond to Sunriver.
Zika sat down for an interview in his new Capitol office after his swearing in. He’s unpacking belongings, learning the long list of protocols for the Legislature, and getting the layout of the labyrinth of offices, hearing rooms and hideaways.
Zika said he knows that when the Legislature gets down to business Tuesday, getting traction on his political agenda is going to be tough. He’s a member of the record-matching smallest Republican caucus in House history. He represents a Central Oregon district in a Legislature led in both parties by lawmakers from west of the Cascades.
“It’s going to be rough, but hopefully, it will all come out all right,” Zika said.
A key battleground for Zika will be housing. His task became more daunting over the past week as Gov. Kate Brown signaled her support for some kind of statewide rent control, a move that is backed by House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland.
“I am opposed to rent control — it does not work,” Zika said. “If you impose regulations like this on property owners and take away their property rights, they will get out of the market. This exodus will reduce the supply of housing and worsen the problem.”
Zika said he believes those owners who stay in the market will lose the incentive to repair and maintain rentals.
“This creates a poor quality of housing,” he said.
Zika also opposes another affordable housing initiative that Kotek plans to put forward. It would bar cities over 10,000 residents — including Redmond and Bend — from approving zoning that limits construction to single-family housing only.
Zika said he would like to see the expansion of a state pilot program to allow for affordable housing outside of urban growth boundary limits. Bend was awarded the project and plans on adding 360 units of housing outside the UGB. Redmond proposed to allow the building of 485 units outside its UGB, with 50 percent for affordable housing. The Redmond proposal was runner-up to Bend in the statewide competition.
“I’d like to see Redmond also get awarded,” Zika said.
Whether the positions of Zika or other Republicans in the House will matter in the end is questionable. With a 38-22 edge over Republicans, even House Minority Leader Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, has admitted GOP lawmakers aren’t “even speed bumps” against the Democrats’ agenda in the House. Still, Zika says he will make his case and hope lawmakers of both parties, in both chambers, will at least listen to what he has to say.
“We all want to see more affordable housing, though there are differences on how to do it,” Zika said.
Zika is at least guaranteed of having an official voice at the beginning of the debate over affordable housing. He’s been named to the House Human Services and Housing Committee. He picked up another key assignment Tuesday when Kotek named him as a House member to the Joint Task Force on Addressing Racial Disparities in Home Ownership. Zika’s other committee assignments are on the House Energy and Environment Committee, and the Veterans and Emergency Preparedness Committee.
Having a freshman House representative is a big change for House District 53, where Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, had served since 2003. Whisnant was appointed in September 2003 to replace Ben Westlund, who had taken a seat in the Senate. Whisnant, a retired Air Force colonel, won election in 2004. He was re-elected every two years until he said he would retire from the House at the beginning of 2019.
Whisnant’s announcement set off a hotly contested 2018 Republican primary between Zika, a member of Redmond’s Urban Area Planning Commission, and Republican political activist Ben Schimmoller, of Bend. Zika won by just two votes, one of the closest elections in state history.
He went on to comfortably win the general election over Democrat Eileen Kiely of Sunriver.
Though new to Salem, Zika says he has been counseled by and will continue to seek advice from Whisnant and former House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte. McLane stepped down from his leadership post for this session, but remains a House member.
“There’s a lot to learn and do, but I’m ready,” Zika said.
— Reporter: 541-640-2750, email@example.com