Huffman new director of Rural Development
After a decade of representing Jefferson County in the Oregon Legislature, former Rep. John Huffman, of The Dalles, will be representing rural Oregon in a new capacity.
Huffman, 60, started work as the new state director of U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development last week, just two days after submitting his letter of resignation to the secretary of state on Oct. 28.
"It is an honor to be selected by the president to fill the extremely important role of state director of USDA Rural Development in Oregon," said Huffman. "I look forward to working with the president, secretary of agriculture, and assistant to the secretary for Rural Development to increase rural prosperity and enhance customer service through innovation and partnerships in our state."
Nominations to replace Huffman as the District 59 representative must occur by Nov. 20, and several people have reportedly submitted their names, including County Commission Chairwoman Mae Huston.
Huffman is no stranger to advocating for rural Oregonians. Since his appointment to the Legislature in 2007, Huffman has been involved in helping extend cell phone service and fiber optics in rural areas; writing legislation for large-scale solar farms; sponsoring bills to name highways to honor veterans; ensuring in-state tuition for higher education for all local students; and supporting many other bills, including several specifically directed toward Jefferson County.
In 2014, Huffman helped Jefferson County become the first county in the state to secure more than $4 million in funds from the state to build a new courthouse. The county broke ground on the courthouse on April 25, 2015, but still needed another $2.5 million, which was awarded three months later, thanks to Huffman's persistence.
"He was instrumental in the courthouse funding," said County Administrator Jeff Rasmussen, noting that Huffman always responded to calls and emails. "With his ability to work on personal relationships across the aisle, he was able to secure the funding for the courthouse, at the same time that there were budget constraints at the state level."
In 2015, Huffman was a sponsor of a bill to allow a city to extend utilities, such as water and sewer, to an airport located outside the urban growth boundary. Although the bill had the potential to help a couple other projects around the state, Madras was the major beneficiary.
The passage of the bill allowed Daimler Trucks North America's $18.7 million construction project at the Madras Municipal Airport to proceed in 2016.
Earlier this year, Huffman introduced and championed House Bill 2743 at the request of city and county officials to expand the city's urban growth boundary to include all of the airport's 2,095 acres.
"HB 2743 really was a simple bill to streamline an otherwise costly and cumbersome land-use process," said Huffman back in July. "Even though it was simple, it took a tremendous amount of time to educate everyone in the legislative process to show the common sense of what we were wanting to accomplish."
Expanding the UGB to include the entire city-owned property means that developers won't have to obtain permits from both the county and the city to locate there.
"The city of Madras got to work closely with Rep. Huffman this last legislative session on House Bill 2743," said Gus Burril, city administrator. "His sponsorship of this bill made it possible for the city of Madras to be enrolled in a pilot program that will enable Madras to move its urban growth boundary (UGB) around the remaining airport property."
"Without Rep. Huffman's support and dedication, the city would not been provided this opportunity and consequently would be spending a much higher level of resources to expand the UGB incrementally over the next decade," he said. "John has saved the Madras community precious resources and time that can be put to good work on other fronts to move Madras forward economically."
Huffman, a member of the Oregon Joint Committee on Ways and Means, also persuaded the committee to hold one of its listening sessions in Madras in February.
Before serving in the Oregon Legislature, Huffman owned and managed the Q104 radio station in The Dalles. In 2007, he and his business partner moved the station to the Seattle area and sold it, after operating the radio station for 22 years.
Later that same year, Huffman was appointed to replace Rep. John Dallum, who had resigned from his position as representative of House District 59. The district covers all of Jefferson and Wheeler counties, most of Wasco County, and a small part of Deschutes County, as well as tiny, unpopulated areas of Clackamas and Marion County.
Huffman was subsequently elected to that position in 2008 (when he was challenged by Commissioner Mike Ahern), and re-elected in 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016, garnering 60-91 percent of the vote each time.
With his wife, Korina, Huffman has eight adult children, 17 grandchildren, and one great-grandson. The Huffmans live in The Dalles, but also have a home in Portland, where the office of USDA Rural Development is located.
As a result of Huffman's resignation, the Republican Party must nominate no fewer than three and no more than five qualified persons to fill the vacancy, according to Oregon statute. Mae Huston confirmed that she has thrown her hat in the ring.
"The Republican Precinct Committee Persons in House District 59 will be meeting next Saturday afternoon to interview and to select the three names to submit to the county commissioners of the counties in House District 59, who will make the appointment," explained Huston, in an email.
Rural Development role
At Rural Development, Huffman will continue to work with the state's rural areas — considered to be those areas with populations up to 35,000 — on community infrastructure, such as single- and multifamily housing, community facilities, water and waste disposal, broadband and electric; business development; and community partnerships, including with community colleges and rural cooperatives.
Rural Development also provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas.
Huffman was one of 43 new Rural Development directors recently appointed by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. The appointments were announced Nov. 6. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov/or.