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Power Council Says No to Oregon Over Changing Chair Vote

by Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, July 19, 2002

The Power Planning Council voted 6-2 against an Oregon motion to change the way the group picks its chair, an issue that has festered since January, when members changed bylaws to vote Washington member Larry Cassidy a third term as chairman. It had been customary for the vice chair to move up to the chairman position. Oregon member Eric Bloch, then vice chair, protested the change, but to no avail.

Since then, Bloch has led a campaign to have the chair rotate equally among the four states. In May, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber sent letters to other Northwest governors trying to drum up support for the change. But the other governors told him they thought the current process was just fine.

After a recent meeting with Kitzhaber, Bloch said his state was considering withdrawing from the Council if it couldn't get the rotation measure passed. In 1990, Oregon Gov. Neil Goldschmidt removed his two members from the NWPPC for two months after a similar fight. They returned with the promise that one would be elected chair the following year.

At this week's Council session in Yakima, however, Bloch downplayed the threat. "It's an option we will consider with other options," he said. "I can't even guess as to its percentage chance."

Bloch's remark came after Washington member Tom Karier said he was "very troubled" by Oregon's position. "It's a thinly veiled message that if we don't pass it, Oregon may leave the Council. I won't let it inform my decision."

Montana members were also content with the status quo. Though rotation was a "principle to strive for," Ed Bartlett said "we have rotation in a way that makes sense to us. The way it works now is just fine." Idaho member Jim Kempton pointed out the response from his governor didn't support the change. "We need the strongest leader possible in the chair," he said.

Cassidy himself said Bloch failed to make a case that Oregon has suffered because he didn't win the chair. "I've worked as hard on Oregon stuff as much as anybody," he said.

He told Bloch that the Oregon member had made a case in January that Oregon had been rejected because of the state's talk about breaching lower Snake dams. But he reminded Bloch that, two years ago, the Oregon member voted along with the rest of the Council to take the breaching issue off the table for five years while developing the latest fish and wildlife program.

Bloch made a last-ditch plea before the vote, after an attempt by Oregon to table the motion until next month's meeting was voted down. "The sovereignty issue is important," he said. "We need a strong Council. We believe this is the way to achieve it through rotation." He pointed out that several other commissions in the country rotated chairs equally, including the Delaware River Basin Commission, the Chesapeake Bay Commission, and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

Most basin tribes supported Bloch's position, though several from the upper Snake region in Idaho did not.

"Forced rotation is not a healthy way to run this body," Cassidy said just before the Council voted against the change, with only Oregon supporting it. After the vote, he expressed interest in exploring the rotation issue further, but "not to leave us with something we were forced to do."

Bill Rudolph
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