Creating a Successful Government Relations Program

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde 

The following is an excerpt from 2000 Honoring Nations: Tribal Governance Success Stories by The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. “The results of the Department’s work are remarkable. As its leaders predicted 20 years ago, carefully tended external relations have shored up the CTGR’s sovereignty and leveled the playing field in the nations’ interactions with other governments. At the state level, which is undoubtedly the arena of Grand Ronde’s greatest success, the number of bills emerging from the Oregon State Legislature that the Tribes viewed as potentially damaging dropped from 19 in 1997 to 3 in 1999. Tribal leaders visiting government offices on official business are no longer treated as ordinary Oregon citizens with request for services, but as representatives of the respected independent government. Similarly, the state government increasingly views the CTGR as a partner in the resolution of important regional issues, which is an important win in this era of federal devolution. The reasons for the Grand Ronde Intergovernmental Affair’s Department’s success are varied and instructive. Critically, the Department works with the Tribal Council to prioritize issues and then concentrate its financial and personal resources on those priorities. In all of its activities, the Department consciously abides by its strategy, which is designed to both influence the short term (especially through well-placed community and political contributions) and to change minds over the long term (especially through its education and outreach work). Finally, the Department is successful because its staff studies and uses recognized techniques for political communication.”

Securing $45+ Million Dollars for Portland Public Schools

Portland Public Schools 

In May 1997, Oregon voters approved Measure 50, which put into the state Constitution a formula that set Portland Public Schools property tax rate at $5.27 per $1,000 in assessed value. In 2003, the Legislature acted to maintain that same tax rate through June 2005, with $.50 cents of the rate going directly to Portland schools. Restoring the Constitutional tax rate under the same terms approved in 2003 would provide $15 million of on-going funding for Portland Public Schools, save teaching positions, and stabilize the budget for at least the next three years. While this bill passed the Senate on a 16-14 vote count, it was narrowly defeated on the floor of the House due to the absence of 2 key Democrats, and a forgotten “Call of the House,” which resulted in two more Democrats not being able to vote. Despite the House vote count showing 31 upon first viewing, the gavel did not fall and what should have been 35 eventually dwindled below a majority. The bill was granted reconsideration in which it was heard again and died in committee even though the vote count was 5-2 for passage. It took the 2006 Special Session, in which the measure was one of three major proposals on the Agenda, to get this accomplished. Through perseverance and continued efforts we were able to keep this concept afloat and ultimately secure the dollars for the benefit of the District. During the 2009 Legislative Session we passed a repeal of this legislations sunset date, which continued funding for Portland Public Schools. This repeal has amounted to approximately $72 million dollars in funding since 2009.

Conservation Easements

Defenders of Wildlife 

In 2001, Oregon state law (HB 3564) recognized conservation as a legitimate land use and made it state policy to encourage voluntary sustainable management of private lands for their long-term ecological, economic, and social values. In 2003, the Oregon Legislature adopted recommendations from the incentives work group convened by the state Departments of Agriculture and Forestry. HB 3616 continued the wildlife habitat special assessment program, which allows the same favorable property tax treatment as commercial forest and agricultural lands (in participating counties). The incentives work group, with broad stakeholder support, also recommended creation of a new special assessment category for lands with a conservation easement. In 2005, SB 593 was introduced to create the new special assessment property tax category for conservation easements. After passing the Senate with bipartisan support, the bill stalled in the House, and eventually died. In 2007, six years after initial attempts of the bill, we were able to pass SB 514 with a 27-0 margin in the Senate and a 37-22 edge in the House. Of this victory, Sara Vickerman, Senior Director of Defenders of Wildlife in Oregon, said “…a huge victory here. Bruce Taylor and our lobbyist Justin Martin deserve credit for this accomplishment, which took six years and wasn’t easy even with the Democrats in charge. The bill sets up a special assessment category for lands under conservation easement, and is a big deal for the land trusts.”