SALEM —Like many seasoned politicians, former lawmaker Chuck Burley won’t say definitively whether he will seek public office again.
“I never say never,” the former representative said.
But, Burley said, he’s content being out of the political arena for now and the foreseeable future. Burley, 57, served two terms as a state lawmaker representing Bend, until the Republican was defeated in 2008 by Democrat Judy Stiegler.
“I had a wonderful experience and I would encourage people to think about it,” Burley said. “I learned a lot. I met a lot of great people. But it was never something I wanted to do on a permanent basis; it was a public service.”
These days, Burley, who is also a former U.S. Forest Service official, now works as a timber manager for Interfor Pacifics Gilchrist division. The Gilchrist mill, where Burley works to procure timber, is doing well, he said. But, since he moved to Bend in 1993, the former timber consultant has watched more than 15 sawmills close in Eastern Oregon alone.
“Right now, in Eastern Oregon we have eight mills running, and if you think about it, eight mills in Eastern Oregon with six national forests and we don’t have enough wood to keep going (full shifts), something is not quite right,” Burley said.
While in the state Legislature, Burley was the vice chairman of the House Energy and Environment Committee.
He sat on the budget-drafting subcommittee that focused on natural resources. He spearheaded an effort to create a biomass income tax credit, and took on a reputation as a moderate Republican who, he said, worked across party lines.
Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, served with Burley, the two often making the trip over the mountains to Salem together.
“I depended on his advice on natural resources issues, he had an extensive background on that,” Whisnant said, calling Burley “a good guy.”
“I still seek his input,” Whisnant said.
A lot of the issues Burley has immersed himself in professionally are very much at the forefront of state politics. The governor has made it clear he doesn’t want to lose the state’s sawmill infrastructure and is pushing a plan to invest state resources to accelerate the speed with which federal forest land can be harvested.
Burley said he hopes to see the governor invest money toward on-the-ground projects.
He believes the state still needs to do a better job of working with businesses and making “Oregon more business-friendly.”
“We’re still lagging in the jobs market, the forest product industry is still a struggle and federal lands are a constant battle,” he said.
“I know the state Legislature can’t control federal land ... but we need to send a strong signal to the feds that we’re tired of what they are doing. Our forests are burning up and we need to do a better job managing them to help people keep their jobs or get new ones.”
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