Cliff Bentz holds meet and greet in Madras
Cliff Bentz, a Republican running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, stopped in Madras for Farm Fair and a meet and greet at Madras Brewing Co. Tuesday, Feb. 4.
Bentz represented District 30, which includes Jefferson County, in the Oregon Senate until he resigned in January to run for Rep. Greg Walden's seat. Walden is retiring when his term ends, leaving a wide-open race to represent the 2nd District.
Bentz said he is the only person in the race who has driven around the district and knows what it's like to be in the small towns.
"There's a bunch of reasons," Bentz said about why he is running. "One, I think I can do some good for this part of the state. I think I can help on the natural resource side."
"Timber, I wouldn't call myself a specialist, but I know a lot about it," he said. He said he understands small towns, and he's worked to help them survive and grow.
"I'm a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-Trump person, and this is going to take us to the precipitating factor," he said.
Bentz's work as a lawyer and on school boards had him bringing people together, he said. He helped family farms and ranches keep their businesses in the family, even when some members left the farm.
When he was in the Oregon Legislature — first in the House and then in the Senate — it was natural to bring people together and to show people from the Willamette Valley what this side of the state is like, he said.
But in the last two years, he realized that something had changed.
"The newer people coming into the building were — impatient is not even a nice enough word — they were dismissive of we who were bringing other points of view to the table," Bentz said.
Bentz touted many successes in the Legislature, including getting self-serve gas in rural areas that "kept fuel in our small towns," he said.
But newer legislators from urban areas "are convinced that we out here in this space are not on top of the issues, not keeping up, not sufficiently woke, not what they think is right for Oregon," he said. And there is "no movement to the middle."
Bentz was one of 11 senators who left the state this summer after negotiations with Democrats broke down over a proposed climate bill.
Bentz had made 16 round trips from his home in Ontario to Portland, he said. "On Dec. 19, 2018, I was no longer allowed to be involved in the discussions. They just kept me out of those discussions. Period."
They said they couldn't have a Republican at the table "or no one will believe that what we're doing is appropriately green," Bentz said.
Part of the reason for the walkout was to get him back in the negotiations, he said.
Instead of cap and trade, Bentz said he supports President Donald Trump's tax bill, which "contains a tax credit for sequestering carbon. Oregon should design a program to allow its use."
In addition, he said, California has money for carbon sequestration, so Oregon could design a way to use "underutilized areas of our state for sequestration paid for by California." Managing forests better could lead to increased sequestration and better fire resilience, he said. And the state should "consider revenue-neutral means of encouraging carbon reduction."
Later in the summer, he and his wife had to decide whether he would run for reelection, and they chose to do so.
"Right after I made that choice, Greg (Walden) made his announcement," Bentz said.
Bentz realized if he could get to Washington, D.C., get President Donald Trump reelected and keep Republican control of the Senate, he "would have leverage because of the president and the Senate."
When working on issues like fires, smoke, water, timber, trade and immigration, he believes he will be able to put his background to work and "go to the table and know you had power behind you," he said. "That's not the case in Salem ... We are a super, super, super minority. And if you don't have power, you're going to get run over in Salem right now."
Bentz hopes to bring his family's long history in Easter in Oregon — over a hundred years' worth — and his own work as a rancher and water rights lawyer to work.
He believes some of the gridlock in Oregon is due to special interests. Environmental lobbyists, in particular, raise funds by pushing for legislation, and if Democrats break ranks, they will pay for it in support.
When asked how he would avoid similar pressures, Bentz said, "As far as interest groups go, I think the fact I have a profession that I could easily return to means that I am far less likely to bend away from my principles just to keep the job. Likewise, I am not beholden to anyone for past support."
He said he loves to read, and his Catholic faith plays an essential role in his life.
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