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Council Member Breaks with Kitzhaber;
Refuses to Resign

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - August 2, 2002

Oregon Northwest Power Planning Council member John Brogoitti lashed out this week -- saying agriculture and other natural resource industries in the state are suffering as a result of Gov. John Kitzhaber's agenda.

The outburst -- delivered in a Monday press release -- earned Brogoitti more than a censure from the man that appointed him to the Council. The governor's top natural resource adviser, Louise Solliday, on Tuesday asked Brogoitti to deliver his resignation by the end of the day.

Brogoitti refused.

"I said 'no, I'm not going to do that,' " Brogoitti said. He said he was then told that the process would be started to remove him from the Council.

"We're working on that right now," said Tom Towslee, the governor's press secretary. With forest fires raging in nearly every part of the state, and the governor engaged in discussions with the Legislature to solve budget troubles, it may be a week or so before Brogoitti's situation is officially addressed.

Brogoitti's "future on the Council is in serious doubt," Towslee said. "We'll deal with this when things calm down." Brogoitti says he understands that he must be notified in writing of the reasons for his dismissal, and be accorded a public hearing.

As of late Thursday, Towslee said the Governor's Office had not been contacted directly by Brogoitti.

Oregon's representatives to the Council are appointed by the governor for three-year terms. Appointments must be confirmed by the state Senate.

"We're disappointed," Towslee said of Brogoitti's press release. "That's not a particularly good way of doing business. He (Kitzhaber) considers John a friend. That's not how friends act -- personal friends."

Towlsee said that the governor had no forewarning of Brogoitti's broadside -- an allegation that the governor wants to scuttle the NWPPC.

Brogoitti said his blowup was a long time coming given what has been a broadening political gap between himself, the governor and fellow Oregon NWPPC member Eric Bloch. Brogoitti supported Kitzhaber during both of the Democrat's gubernatorial campaigns. Now Brogoitti, a lifelong Democrat, said he is considering a switch to the Republican Party.

An obvious parting of the ways came over the proposed breaching of four lower Snake River federal hydroelectric projects to recover mainstem habitat and clear the path for migrating salmon. Kitzhaber's has said that breaching is likely the most effective tool in the Columbia River Basin's salmon recovery toolbox. Brogoitti is adamantly opposed to dam removal, and the resulting loss of power generating capacity and existing navigation and irrigation benefits.

"I think the governor is totally green," Brogoitti said. "He has an environmental agenda."

"I don't think rural Oregon is getting enough say on what's going on in Oregon," said Brogoitti. He added he'd like to remain on the Council to champion the causes of agriculture and other natural resource industries, which are "getting beat up these days. He (Kitzhaber) is not even talking to agriculture right now."

Brogoitti said he has known the governor personally for many years. "I have considered him a friend," Brogoitti said. But he said he could not remain quiet regarding certain Kitzhaber initiatives.

"I've got to look at myself in the mirror in the morning," Brogoitti said.

The "last straw," Brogoitti said, was a discussion he had last week regarding Kitzhaber's effort to have the NWPPC bylaws changed to require a set rotation among the four states of the panel's leadership positions. The initiative was launched this past January after the Council approved a bylaw change that allowed the election of Washington's Larry Cassidy to a third consecutive one-year term as chairman. The bylaw previously had restricted one person to two years as chairman.

Kitzhaber, Bloch and Brogoitti spent the late winter and spring lobbying their peers, and the public, regarding their perceived need for a rotating chair so that all of the states would spend their fair share of time at the helm of the Council. The governors of Idaho, Montana and Washington, and their representatives to the Council, panned the proposal. All said they felt the Council should be free to elect the person they felt best suited to lead. Bloch -- an obvious choice to move into the top spot after two years as vice chair -- was passed over in the January election.

Brogoitti, although admitting he supported Kitzhaber's bylaw proposal, said this week he believed it was just a "red herring" intended to divert attention from the governor's environmentalist agenda, and his push to replace the Council with a more fish friendly governance entity.

In his press release Brogoitti said he had advised the governor twice in the past six months that Bloch had not been considered for the chairmanship by other council members because of personality conflicts-- not state-related issues.

During last week's meeting with the governor, Brogotti made an offer to the governor to seek election to the chairmanship of the council on behalf of the state of Oregon.

"The governor just kind of looked at me and said, 'the chairmanship is not the issue, ' " Brogoitti said. When he asked Kitzhaber what the real issue was, Broggoitti said he got vague response about the need for fair representation for all of the states in Council leadership.

Brogoitti was appointed to the Council by Kitzhaber in 1995, the governor's first year in office. Brogoitti had served previously on Oregon's Land Conservation and Development Commission, which oversees land-use planning in Oregon, since 1987.

Brogoitti runs his family's farm, Oregon Trail Ranches, in near Pendleton, raising cattle and hay. He is the third generation on the farm, with children and grandchildren waiting in the wings. Brogoitti obtained a bachelor's degree in political science and math from Eastern Oregon College in La Grande.

"It doesn't make sense that the governor would threaten to pull Oregon out of the regional process that provides funding for dearly-valued fish and wildlife projects just because of a minor snafu over the largely symbolic chairmanship of the NWPPC," Brogoitti said in his press release. Kitzhaber had said he would consider ending state participation on the Council if the bylaw proposal was not approved.

"Surely the governor, an ardent environmentalist, would not shoot himself in the foot on such matters, especially in a cash-strapped economy, unless he had something else in mind," Brogoitti reasons in his press release.

Brogoitti points out a news story published last week speculated that that Gov. Kitzhaber "appears to be thinking beyond the council itself. He may even have plans to replace the council with another governing body, something that would require an act of Congress."

Regional bodies composed of state, federal and tribal representatives -- known as The Columbia River Forum and Three Sovereigns -- were supported by Kitzhaber, but shelved for lack of overall support, Brogoitti said. Under those proposals, the three sovereign governmental entities would have established power, fish and wildlife and environmental policy without input from regional agricultural and industrial constituents, according to Brogoitti.

Brogoitti said he "sees great danger in this and is taking action to alert local citizens of the situation."

Towslee said the governor does feel Columbia River power/fish and wildlife governance issues need to be addressed. But with only six months remaining in his second and final term as governor, it would be difficult to push through any sweeping governance proposal.

"The governor's disappointed in the Council's lack of interest in fish issues," Towslee said. "The Council needs to recognize that fish have a role in this process, along with power."

Council Chairman Cassidy said he was "totally surprised" by Brogoitti's press release, and disappointed at the fallout.

"Gov. Kitzhaber appointed John Brogoitti to represent a specific group of stakeholders and he's done a good job of it," Cassidy said.

The Council was authorized in the Northwest Power Act of 1980 and approved by a vote of the legislatures of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. The governor of each state appoints two members to serve on the Council. The Council is charged with developing a long-term power plan to guarantee an adequate and reliable energy at the lowest cost to the region and developing a program to protect and rebuild fish and wildlife populations affected by hydropower development in the Columbia River Basin. The NWPPC fish and wildlife program is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration at about $186 million per year.

Barry Espenson
Council Member Breaks with Kitzhaber; Refuses to Resign
Columbia Basin Bulletin, August 2, 2002

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