The Salem Way is to hide what’s going on from the public. Oregon legislators have not been straight about the reasons behind the bill to ban a footbridge over the Deschutes River just south of Bend.

First, they introduced House Bill 4029 without a legislator’s name attached. How is it OK that legislators can consider a bill and voters are not allowed to know who is behind it?

The Salem Way with HB 4029 bill was to tell the public a tale. The public was told that the bill was introduced at the request of Oregon Wild, the conservation group.

But after a hearing on the bill on Thursday, committee Chairman Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, let slip some truth. He could be overheard clearly stating into a microphone that was still on that the bill was: “Gene Whisnant’s retirement gift.”

Rep. Whisnant, R-Sunriver, showed off his fluency in The Salem Way last session. He tried to sneak a similar bill blocking the bridge past the Legislature and the public. He pulled a gut and stuff. He stripped out the language of a related bill and inserted his own language to ban the Bend Park & Recreation District’s long-planned footbridge. Whisnant didn’t tell the park district what he was up to.

He was only listening to the people with the nice homes near the possible bridge site. He showed contempt for the park district. More importantly, he showed contempt for the public on the east side of the river who could get easier access with the bridge to the trails in the Deschutes National Forest. He showed contempt for people who would rather walk or bike to those trails, rather than guzzle fuel.

Whisnant didn’t get away with it. The bill did pass the House with cursory review. In the Senate, it got the scrutiny it deserved and the fate it deserved. It was sent off to die in committee. But now it is reborn in HB 4029 as a boon for Whisnant’s planned retirement from the Legislature.

The Salem Way has so taken hold that the usual considerations of ethics seem to no longer apply. There is a feeling in Salem that legislators have license to abandon legislative accountability. There is a feeling that it’s OK to reward a legislator with a bill born of underhanded maneuvering, that meddles in local control and that’s contemptuous of people who want access to forest trails. The Salem Way greased the path for HB 4029.

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