Tributes are being paid to state Rep. Gary Leif, a Republican from Roseburg who died Thursday morning, July 22, of cancer. He was 64.
Leif had been a Douglas County commissioner for just under 18 months when he was appointed to the House District 2 seat vacated by Dallas Heard of Roseburg in May 2018. Heard in turn succeeded Sen. Jeff Kruse of Roseburg, who resigned under pressure in 2018.
Leif was elected to the House in 2018 and 2020 from a district that covers parts of Douglas, Josephine and Jackson counties. Commissioners from those counties will appoint a successor from three to five candidates nominated by Republicans from within the district.
Leif's death created the third vacancy in the House since the 2021 Legislature opened in January. Diego Hernandez, a three-term Democrat from Portland, resigned before an expulsion vote was scheduled; Andrea Valderrama of Portland succeeded him. Mike Nearman, a four-term Republican from Polk County, was expelled on a June 10 vote by the House for his role in aiding anti-lockdown protesters enter a closed Capitol during a Dec. 21 special session; Anna Scharf of Amity, a former Nearman aide and office manager of her family's farm, succeeded him on July 12.
Leif had owned his own photography business in Roseburg for about 40 years, but was retired when he ran for county commissioner in 2016. He had a long list of community affiliations.
Leif had cancer, but sought to keep it quiet so he could complete the 2021 session, which ended June 26. During the session he was on the General Government, Human Services and Water committees — he was the top Republican on the first two panels — and also a full member of the Legislature's joint budget-writing committee.
House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, also on the budget committee with Leif, issued a statement:
"I am deeply saddened by the unexpected loss of our friend and colleague Gary Leif. Gary's sense of humor, his commitment to bipartisanship and his love of family and community marked his service in the Oregon Legislature.
"I am grateful for my time working directly with Gary. His energy and enthusiasm accomplished great work for his district, and he will be sorely missed.
"Not only was he a valued colleague, but he was also a mentor and supporter within our caucus. He would frequently check on members to see how they were doing and provide helpful advice. His patient and humble demeanor was a constant and positive presence, especially for freshmen legislators looking for guidance in their new roles."
Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod of Lyons also served with Leif on the budget committee.
"It was a pleasure to serve with him on the Ways and Means committee this last session," Girod said in a statement. "He was an honest and hard-working representative for the people of Southern Oregon. His common-sense approach to issues was a bright spot in the Legislature, one that will not be easily filled. I am praying for his wife, family, and friends during this difficult time."
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, had this to say:
"Roseburg lost one of its great champions today. Gary was a good person. Everyone liked him. He liked being a legislator and he was a good one. My thoughts and prayers are with his family."
Rep. David Brock Smith, a Republican from Port Orford, is from the adjoining House District 1.
"It is difficult to express the profound sadness of the loss of my colleague, my friend and a tremendous lifelong dedicated member to public service in southwest Oregon," he said in a statement.
"Gary and I had the privilege to serve our respective counties together as county commissioners before serving together in the Legislature for the two House districts that represent Senate District 1. Gary's vast knowledge from his prior years of public service, coupled with his commitment to his communities and their residents brought so much to the legislative process. He was a stalwart advocate for Court Appointed Special Advocates, our youth and residents. His upbeat personality and humor was infectious, making the long days in the Legislature that much better.
"The only thing Gary was more dedicated to; other than his communities and their residents, was to his wife and family. Love and prayers to Gary's beloved wife Carol and family. To them and my dear friend Gary, 'The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.'"
NOTE: Corrects description of District 2; adds statement from Rep. David Brock Smith, who is from an adjoining district.
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