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Young legislators form Oregon 'Future Caucus'

Oregon's caucus includes four Democrats and four Republicans. They say they want to find common ground to confront these challenges.

CLAIRE WITHYCOMBE/CAPITAL BUREAU - From left: State Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, State. Rep David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, State Rep. Karin Power, D-Milwaukie, and State Rep. Julie Fahey, D-West Eugene/Junction CityOf the 90 legislators in the Oregon House and Senate, only eight are 42 or younger.

Those lawmakers now make up the Oregon Future Caucus, which officially launched this week to find policy solutions to problems that younger Oregonians face.

These days, young people are staring down significant economic barriers to financial security: housing costs have soared, wages are stagnating, and higher education is more expensive than ever.

Oregon's caucus includes four Democrats and four Republicans. They say they want to find common ground to confront these challenges. They also want to work on issues like criminal justice reform and early childhood education.

Caucus member State Rep. Julie Fahey, D-West Eugene/Junction City says many young people don't identify with Republicans or Democrats, and want to see an end to partisan gridlock in government.

State Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, another member of the caucus, concurred in remarks at a Wednesday press conference at the Capitol.

"I think most of us would agree here, when we talk to people of our age and younger they're just sick of Washington D.C., doesn't matter which party you're talking about," Heard said. "People are tired of people just knifing each other as they try to crawl to the top of the pile."

Fahey says she's also interested in getting more young people engaged in government. She points out that there is only one person of color, and only two women, in the eight-person caucus.

Legislating can be a demanding job, and since it pays about $24,000 per year plus per diem, most lawmakers need to hold down a second gig to pay the bills. Add raising a family to that equation and it gets nearly impossible.

"...The fact that there are eight of us shows generally the barriers that younger people face in being in office," Fahey said.

The Oregon caucus is the 27th such group in a state legislature, part of a network of caucuses organized by the nonpartisan Millennial Action Project.

A group of legislators 40 and younger had been meeting informally since January, Fahey said.

Then Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, turned 41. The group ultimately raised the age to 42 so that Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, could join and stay on after his imminent birthday, Fahey said. (They also made a rule that you can't "age out" before a session ends).

The group now includes Fahey, Bonham, Smith, Heard, Rep. Duane Stark, R-Grants Pass; Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland; Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis; and Rep. Karin Power, D-Milwaukie.