At Chamber celebration, Rep. Mark Johnson says he likes the cut of Hood River's cloth

February 15, 2012

Emcee Michael Thompson told the jokes but Rep. Mark Johnson put the Chamber in stitches.

The Chamber of Commerce, Johnson said, is the "seamstress" of the local economy.

Johnson spoke briefly to start Friday's Hood River Chamber of Commerce Member Appreciation Banquet at the Gorge Room at Best Western Hood River Inn, before turning the podium over to Thompson and Chamber Executive Director Kerry Cobb for the evening's comedy (see story, page A2).

The laughs would come after Johnson's lauds.

Johnson gave an optimistic analysis of the current Salem Legislative session and how he plans to "sing the praises" of Hood River.

"We have an economy here that is amazingly resilient, and I think all of you here tonight should be proud of the role that you play in making that happen," said Johnson, a first-term Republican, and Hood River County School Board member, who runs a contracting business. His wife, Melodi, also attended the chamber banquet.

Johnson told the chamber audience, "When the governor came here (in December) I told him that what we have here is an economic tapestry, all these pieces that come together from high-tech to recreational stuff to agricultural interests and so forth that really tell the story of what can make a sustainable economy.

"But the seamstress of the healthy Hood River economy is the chamber, actually working really hard for you," Johnson said.

On the work currently happening in Salem, he said, "We have a few little things on the plate, and we are working well together; and I think you will be proud of what comes out of this session."

Johnson said the Legislature has "a few little items to deal with, including transforming the health care system; and the whole public education system will be revamped by the end of this session."

"We have a $230 million hole we have to fix without letting prisoners run free out of the state penitentiary, or putting infirm people on the street and taking money out of the classrooms; and as long as we can balance the budget without doing that we'll be fine. But we're actually doing very well; we have a budget plan I think you'll see in a week or so and I think we can accomplish those goals, without raising taxes."

He noted that the current session is an off-year one, with a mandated 35-day limit.

"It's been an amazing experience," Johnson said of serving in Salem. He and fellow Hood River Republican Chuck Thomsen, who serves Senate Dist. 24, are known as "red-shirt freshmen," meaning they have served through a long session (2011) but not their whole term.

Johnson said, "One of the unanticipated pleasures - I guess I'd put it in he category of blessing - that I hadn't anticipated when I went to Salem is what a special thing it is to represent Hood River as a state legislator, because people know what a wonderful place this is, believe me.

"And I kind of saw that when the governor visited," Johnson said of John Kitzhaber's meetings in Hood River and Cascade Locks with local government officials and business and education leaders.

"There is a reason why the governor came to visit: There are some really significant and cool things going on here. It is such a pleasure for me to be from this place and have a chance to be in Salem and not just to represent a place that's wonderful and beautiful to come to and vacation and windsurf and hang out and all those good things," Johnson said.

"But the thing is, there is something special going on here, and it is no coincidence that I'm here tonight to talk about the chamber. The chamber helps people to network; it helps to promote what's going on here, and we all can be proud of what (executive director) Kerry Cobb and the staff do here."

To Cobb, he said, "You guys are amazing, and the whole state recognizes what's going on in Hood River. And it's my job in Salem as much as I can to sing praises of Hood River and try to see how many other places in Oregon can replicate what's going on in Hood River."

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