Chamber elects new officers, hears Merkley address

The East Portland Chamber of Commerce keeps going and growing. Read this, and see what this year’s leaders have in store …

Newly elected officers are (left to right): President, Richard Sorem, Stewart & Tunno Insurance; Vice President, Pam Olson, Farmers Insurance; Treasurer, Norm Rice, 1st Class Properties; and Secretary Jill Critchfield, Pacific HR.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The East Portland Chamber of Commerce was formed four years ago to serve the city’s large eastside area, home to approximately 14,000 businesses, with an annual payroll of nearly $520-million.

Most are small businesses with fewer than 50 employees each.

The Chamber’s new board members are: Casey Ryan, vice president, Riverview Community Bank; and Nancy Zuffrea, marketing director, ExecuTech Suites.

The organization’s new president this year is Richard Sorem, Stewart & Tunno Insurance, who explains, “The Chamber’s focus in 2008 is on helping our members grow, learn, and be heard – especially down at Portland City Hall and in County government.”

The group holds free Wednesday morning networking meetings at various locations each week. See our Community Calendar for the location of this week’s “Good Morning East Portland” session. “We also offer educational seminars, golf and bowling tournaments, social events, and opportunities for our members to give back to their community,” says Sorem.

Merkley addresses Chamber members

David Douglas Schools District Superintendent Barbara Rommel outlines a brief history of the District before introducing DDHS graduate, Oregon’s House Speaker, Jeff Merkley, at this Wednesday morning meeting held at the offices of DDS.

“I’m proud to be a product of David Douglas Schools,” begins Jeff Merkley, Speaker of Oregon’s House of Representatives, and candidate to be the Democratic Party nominee to run against US Senator Gordon Smith.

How did Merkley get his start in politics?

“When I was a high school junior here,” Merkley recalls, “I remember sitting in the library. A person came and asked me to sign his petition to run for SA president. I asked him to ‘treat the students right’ if he was elected. If he didn’t, I told him, I’d run against him. He just laughed at me. I marched down to the student office, got my petition forms, sighed up, and ran against him. I won the election.”

The frustration of the student body, he continues, led him to take action. “It changed my outlook on life. It has dominated my outlook on life since then. I want to dive in and do things better. From working in small villages, to the Pentagon, to running a small business, I have gained a lot of experience.”

Merkley expresses his admiration for businesspeople, saying, “I appreciate your sheer tenacity, your drive to make your businesses run. I congratulate you all for being active in government, and especially Ken Turner, for helping to drive the Small Business Bill of Rights through the Portland City Council.”

Jeff Merkley tells how the current State Legislature has improved the state’s financial footing, and has worked more cooperatively.

Talking about the last legislative session, Merkley characterizes it as “productive. Our committees worked hard to find solutions together.”

About the state’s economic outlook, he remarks, “We haven’t slid into a recession yet, but other states are.”

He states that the new “Rainy Day Fund” has boosted Oregon’s bond rating, even though “the national debt has doubled in the last seven years. Everything, including education, is getting squeezed. Much of the interest on our nations’ debt is held by Chinese lenders. I don’t want my tax dollars going to China.”

Regarding education, the Speaker says, “I’m concerned about educational funding, especially higher education. A first-tier economy in Oregon requires providing first-rate education.”

About the “special emergency session” held this month, Merkley said, “A Citizens Advisory Council requested that we hold an emergency session.” He was unavailable to answer questions regarding that advisory group.

Merkley answers questions put to him by members of the East Portland Chamber of Commerce.

Merkley answers questions raised by chamber members

Q “We’re all busy. What is the way for busy people to stay informed about local and state politics?”

A “Read the newspaper, listen to public radio and watch news, like on KGW-TV. For businesses, check with your trade association. Call, or meet with, your state representatives. If you can’t visit them, write or send an e-mail. I do put out an electronic newsletter to keep people informed.”

Q Regarding the “special emergency Oregon Legislative session”, a member asks, “It’s been said that government that is best governs least. What is this ‘special session’ going to cost the taxpayers?”

A “Jefferson said the best government is local government. It costs us about $10,000 per day to hold a session. Marginal costs are about the same. There is the increased per diem. When I came to legislature there was 24-hour pubic notice. We’re going to post a week out the bills taken up by the House. You get a lot better oversight when you utilize citizens in the process.

“Our hope in the special session will be adding more Oregon State Police Troopers to intercept drugs, like methamphetamine, coming in from the South. We’re holding this thought in mind: ‘How can we keep the problem-solving mentality?’ We will only be dealing with committee recommended bills.”

Q “In regard to you running for your party’s US Senate seat nomination: People have become polarized. There is gridlock. What would you do as a US Senator to reduce that phenomenon?”

A “We were able to overcome this by acting more inclusively. This means recognizing the minority party members on the committees; requiring they sit together, not on opposite ends of the table, for example.

“I can’t write the rules for how the Senate behaves. But years ago, [members of our US Legislature] went through wars and depressions together. Regardless [of their political party] they were on the same team. We have to figure out how to get out of Iraq; how to balance the budget; how to reduce the ‘carbon load’ off the world’s ecology. I will bring the philosophy of cooperation. I’m hoping leaders around the country will see more collaboration, rather than keep using a burnt-earth strategy for negotiations.”

Q “Why can’t [the City of Portland] adopt an attitude of commons-sense spending? I’m seeing trams built; and trolley car lines and other wasteful projects being built. Shouldn’t we spend money to help revitalize business so people can get good jobs and revitalize their lives?”

A “I don’t follow the city budget closely. Common sense budgeting makes sense. Downtown has added a number of features to strengthen the City’s inner core. I’m concerned that there may be an over-concentration of poverty and in outer East Portland. We need to engage Portland better.”

Q Judith Huck, Classique Floors asks, “How do we go about that? I see gentrification of inner Portland. Now, schools out here are underfunded. We need to support our schools here; now that so many of the poor have moved out here.”

A “We need to be more engaged with City politics. We need to get City Council meetings out here. The more engagement with the city, the more results we’re going to get.”

For more information regarding the East Portland Chamber of Commerce, see their web site, CLICK HERE.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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