By WILLIAM LUNDQUIST
GOLD BEACH Curry Countys new state senator, Bill Fisher, R-Roseburg, is not happy with the redistricting plan that put him in that position, but was delighted to meet his new constituents Monday.
Fisher met with county officials Monday morning, then toured Brookings and its port. He returned to Gold Beach for a public reception in the afternoon.
I know youre frustrated with the redistricting, he said at his reception. I am too, but not with the chance to work with some wonderful people.
In the redistricting, Fisher became senator of District No. 1. He said he lost some areas from his old District 23, but gained parts of the South Coast, including Curry County.
He said his house sits barely 600 feet inside the district he represents. He found he no longer lives within the precinct he represents for the Republicans.
Fisher reassured those who feared he might be a city senator from Roseburg that his roots are completely rural.
He said his family moved from California to Eastern Washington when he was 5 years old.
From that time on, his life was farming, logging, contracting and a little mechanical repair on the side.
The family farm grew sugar beets, wheat, corn, beans and hay. The farm is still in the family, and is now nearly 100 years old.
When his first child was born, he had to drive 30 miles through the snow to get his wife to the hospital.
The weather stranded him at the hospital, so he slept in the maternity ward with his wife.
He said he didnt wear a hospital gown, however, for fear a nurse might mistake him in the dark for his wife and assault him.
That was not Fishers first or last brush with the health care system. He served as a dental assistant in the military.
He also spent the last 34 years in the long-term care business in Oregon and is currently a nursing home owner and operator. Prior to that, he was a high-school teacher.
He has also been a member of the Douglas Timber Operators since 1988, and still owns a 30-acre hay field.
I may be back buckin bales next year, he said, adding that he still enjoys physical work.
I can relate to many people, said Fisher.
One of those was Curry Countys former state senator, Veral Tarno. Fisher developed a close working relationship with him when they were in the House together.
He said he worked on the groundfish issue and supported what coastal representatives were trying to do, though he didnt know enough about the subject to take a leadership role.
Fisher said he would continue to work with Sen. Ken Messerle, who now represents a district from Coos Bay north, on coastal issues.
He will also work with Rep. Wayne Krieger, R-Gold Beach. I will give him permission to speak for me down here, he said.
He also said, I meet so many wonderful people out there doing things in their local communities. He said he would need their help to learn what the coast needs.
Fisher promised to do his best to get to the coast and become acquainted with its issues.
He said he and his wife have always loved going to the coast. Instead of staying in places like Newport, he said, they will now visit the South coast.
Fisher said he serves on the Health and Human Services Committee and Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in the Senate. He received a plaque in 1999 for his work on rural health issues.
I thoroughly know how important health care in rural areas is, he said.
He said health care is not cheaper in rural areas, and people have to drive miles to find it.
He said if the Republicans keep control of the Senate next session, he could be the chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee.
Fisher said he also understands mental health issues in rural areas. He said the state loaded the counties down with more people needing care, but didnt provide additional funds.
By doing nothing we put a mandate on local communities, he said. We dont like when the federal government does that to us. I will do my best to get all the money I can out to rural areas.
On natural resource issues, Fisher said, Weve got to get some kind of reasonable business sense back.
He said his family never wanted to waste land on its farm. Where 19 bushels per acre used to be considered good, Fisher said he would consider it crop failure now.
He said his brother now gets 68 bushels an acre off the land, proving that it has been well cared for.
Its the same with timber, said Fisher. We want to pass it down to future generations.
Im a conservationist as far as wanting to see things taken care of, he said.
He said the timber industry needs to get everything it can from each log, and companies in Southern Oregon are leading the way.
In closing his speech, Fisher said, I will give you my time. Feel comfortable getting in touch with me.
He said he would appreciate advance warning if he is needed on the coast for special meetings.
He said he serves on five task forces, two committees and the governors commission on senior services.
Fisher also fielded a few questions from the audience.
Former publisher Bob Van Leer was concerned about the special legislative session on the budget. He said severe budget cuts could endanger the local health district.
I want to be as fair as I can with the state budget, said Fisher, but I said things that didnt get a continued service level last session wont be hit again until others are tapped.
We need to fund the system of overall long-term care. I would like to see new programs held off so we can run those we had before.
Fisher said he served on the Douglas County Home Health Agency. Im a proponent of keeping people home and independent, he said.
My feeling is we take care of the people, said Fisher, especially the aging World War II veteran generation.
He said we have a huge obligation to those people. Im not backing out on them now.
He said people also need more health and human services during an economic downturn.
I will be in the forefront for those programs, he said.
Public Health Director Barbara Floyd asked Fisher how he thought the special budget session would go.
He said it wouldnt be like those of the late 1970s and early 1980s because the governors are so different.
If we dont call a special session, he warned, then were looking at straight across-the-board cuts by the governor.
I will do everything I can to get a special session. I will be in there trying to protect rural issues.