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Bill Kennemer reflects on his involvement with politics in light of his retirement

FILE PHOTO - Kennemer addresses a crowd at Estacada City Hall.

Bill Kennemer can pinpoint the exact moment that inspired him to serve others through public service and psychology.

When Kennemer, the representative for Oregon House District 39, was 5 years old his family lived in a chicken barn on their poultry farm in Corvallis while his father salvaged lumber from abandoned barns to build them a small house. However, a fire destroyed the house.

After this incident, neighbors invited Kennemer's family to live in their basement while the community built them a new house.

"It was amazing to see all of those people. At one point there were 100-150 people there," Kennemer recalled. "Local businesses contributed products. I would go out and see these people, none of whom I recognized, and I was amazed that they cared."

After that, Kennemer "understood a sense of responsibility to do my fair share."

After 31 years in public service, Kennemer recently announced his retirement from Oregon's House of Representatives.

He cited several reasons for this decision, including Salem's polarized atmosphere and the desire to spend more time with family.

"I think an important challenge we're presented with is to enjoy the seasons of our lives," he said, noting that he's appreciated his time in politics but is also looking forward to retirement.

Kennemer will serve through the end of his current term. In the upcoming legislative session, he will serve on the House Healthcare Committee, House Rules Committee, the House Business and Labor Committee and the Joint Committee on Legislative Policy and Research.

Along with practicing as a psychologist for more than 20 years, Kennemer has been involved in politics since 1987. He served as a state senator from 1987-96, Clackamas County Commissioner from 1997-2008 and an state representative since 2009.

Kennemer said there are several elements of his political career that make him proud, including his work with Oregon's health care plan.

"As a psychologist, I brought a professional perspective. I was very involved with the original efforts in 1989," he said. "We've been a leader in providing health care to most Oregonians, and that's an important thing."

Additionally, he was involved with bills that shaped tourism in the late 1980s.

"The economy wasn't well, and tourism was a new addition," he said. "It was exciting to be involved in bringing people to see this place I loved and treasured."

Kennemer was also involved with salmon and steelhead recovery and sponsored a bill to remove gillnets from the Columbia River.

In addition to his legislative accomplishments, Kennemer has strived to be accessible to his constituents and accurately represent their interests.

"When I was (a Clackamas) County Commissioner, I used to joke that I represented five counties," he said. "Estacada's concerns are very different from those in Wilsonville or Lake Oswego. You go around the county, and all of the places are very different."

To ensure that he understood this diversity of concerns, Kennemer attended many different meetings in cities across the country during his time as a commissioner.

"It's an important thing to represent people, getting out there and listening," he said.

While at Oregon's Capitol, Kennemer has seen many changes over time.

"Salem is getting very partisan, and as a representative, it's been difficult these last couple of sessions," Kennemer said. "When I first went to Salem, we had partisan moments, but for the most part we all worked together. Out of 30 senators, I was friends with at least 25 of them."

Kennemer recalled other senators gathering in his office after work sessions, during which they would discuss "what was on our minds," including proposed bills. One person would even bring his guitar and sing folk songs.

"We had wonderful conversations that virtually don't exist anymore," Kennemer said. "I really miss that. I was surprised when I got to the house at how it had changed. We worked better when we had time to sit and talk."

Kennemer has enjoyed spending time in all of the areas he serves. One of his favorite memories of Estacada is participating in the city's Fourth of July parade.

"I always loved being in that parade. Parades are those things that create memories for people," he said. "Estacada has always been a very special community."

Last week, Oregon VFW Commander Ken Kraft told the Clackamas Review, a sister paper of the Estacada News, that he intends to run for Kennemer's position in the Republican primary. As of Monday, Jan. 29, no candidates have filed for the position on the Secretary of State's Orestar database.

House District 39 includes Estacada, Eagle Creek, Barlow, Barton, Beavercreek, Boring, Canby, Carus, Charbonneau, portions of Damascus and Happy Valley, Fisher Mill, Mulino, Redland and rural Oregon City areas.

Kennemer hopes to be remembered as someone who was dedicated to his community.

"I hope people think of me as someone sincere and committed to making Clackamas County and Oregon a little better for all of us, and that I did my fair share to make that happen," he said.

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