Representative Brian Clem (D-Oregon HD 21) has not slowed down. Even with the legislature out of session and even as he runs for his forth term as representative of a district that includes both central and east Salem, Clem keeps on his toes. He is hard at work on new legislation, he’s helping constituents with the many problems they bring to him and he’s up on a tractor in Hood River, harvesting cherries on the family farm.
He’s also an active and devoted dad.
Clem’s team has already held ten House Parties for him; it expects to throw twenty more before Labor Day. At a recent one, in a leafy Salem garden setting, his record (three important pieces of legislation passed this term) is mentioned. A supporter asks about his uncanny success in getting bills passed.
“An evenly-divided legislature doesn’t have to pose a problem to strong legislation,” Clem begins. “If you’re working with people who are productive and have goals to achieve, it can actually go well. Because we [Democrats and Republicans in the State Legislature] were ‘tied,’ each party had to choose to vote. In many cases, the state was well served by the unique set of circumstances that had us achieve so much.”
One reason Clem’s an informal man, he says, is because he came from humble beginnings. He can still be startled by the title, “Representative.” He’s met many constituents at their front door (he personally knocked on 11,600 prior to his first election) and he looks up at still more from the floor of their homes, on his hands and knees, working as owner and employee of On-Site PC Help of Salem, a computer systems business he has run since 2000. “You don’t get too impressed with yourself from that position,” he says, “and I work consciously to maintain that.”
As Clem speaks at the garden gathering, his four-year old daughter, Kohana Jade, dashes across the lawn and reaches to be lifted up. He holds her easily as he discusses a pesticide bill. The two are clearly close, and wife Carol Suzuki, standing nearby, smiles.
On a different day, Clem participates in the American Cancer’s Society’s annual Relay for Life, a Walk-A-Thon held at the Chemawa Indian School Campus. Cancer is a cause he has cared about since a friend got him involved, years ago. Everyone seems to know each other at the Relay, and to know Clem, so in his remarks he mentions how the friend herself was recently diagnosed with the disease.
“This year I’m walking for her,” he says.
He is not happy with legislators influenced by tobacco company lobbyists. “Every session at the Capitol we seem to fight those companies who make a lot of money off their victims, and whose products cause cancer,” he says. In one recent month, “Phillip Morris donated $50,000 to Oregon legislators.”
“It makes me angry when our legislators vote cancer research down.” Clem urges the crowd to email representatives, asking them to stand up to lobbyists. A tobacco company sent him a check, too, as restitution for his grandparent’s death from tobacco-related disease.
Clem sent it straight back. “Next time,” he tells the crowd, to cheers, “I’m going to mail it to the Cancer Society!”
Back at his office at the Capitol, Clem settles in to discuss his family. “I take my daughter to school and pick her up as much as I can,” he says. “We have lunch at the park, we go to ballet practice.” Carol’s mother lives with them; the whole family cooks and gardens.
“I’ve observed those who forgot ‘family’ when they were legislators; I’ve seen broken families. I don’t want my daughter to ever feel she lost her dad to public service.”
A fifth-generation Oregonian, Clem grew up in Coos Bay, raised by a single mom. Life was often a struggle. The home was “on a dead-end street with drug houses at the bottom of the hill… I never dreamed I would end up with a job like this.”
It’s a background Clem is not ashamed of and which he believes benefits him in service to his constituents.
He returns to the topic of campaign contributions. “I don’t keep donations from out-of-state PACS, unions or other groups. It doesn’t seem right that groups who are not even from Oregon should try to influence me. I either send the money back or donate it to the Boys & Girls Club. I’ve probably done that with $30,000 since I took office. It’s my way of saying what the law should be.”
He stands squarely with ‘the 99%. “Something needs to be done to change the way government sees ‘free speech.’ I personally don’t feel that the ability to donate unlimited amounts of money is what the Founders envisioned as free speech. Chris Dudley [the Republican who lost to Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber by less than 4% in 2010] got $400,000 from just one man who owned timber companies.”
“It’s corrosive. It’s not impossible to vote against someone who gave you that magnitude of money, but it’s highly unlikely.”
Clem supports “any measures to keep donations limited, both in Oregon and nationally.”
In his first three terms, Clem’s priority has been to keep Oregon money within the state. “It’s important that we make as much as possible locally,” he says.
Last session he co-chaired the Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee and served on several others. He mentions again his pride in the cooperation he experienced between the two parties.
The author of many bills, Clem cites two from the (most recent) 76th Legislative Session which received bi-partisan support:
HB 3000 – Buy Oregon First Act
This legislation allows agencies to now give a small preference to Oregon businesses. It enables an agency to give preference to an Oregon company’s bid for goods (from chairs and desks to food and water) that have been fabricated or processed in Oregon, as long as it does not cost more than the amount allocated by the agency.
So agencies now have the freedom to buy from Oregon companies, even if those companies aren’t the lowest bidder on something.
Allowing Oregon companies this advantage keeps money in the state.
“The implementation HB 3000 is happening,” Clem says proudly, “and it has meant a $10 million shift from out-of-state to in-state already, in just the first quarter of 2012.”
HB 2800 – Farm to School
This bill boosts both Oregon’s agricultural sector and its children’s health. Estimates are it will add up to $100 million to Oregon’s rural economy.
“The overall concern,” he says, “was how do you rebuild the middle class? What can you do as a state legislator to help people find decent work? My wife is a farm girl. I married her and started seeing what a treasure our Oregon farm land is.”
Through his wife, Clem learned how difficult it was for family farms to survive. “Her family has been debt-free for 100 years, and they’re still struggling. I thought I might be able to make it easier for all those farmers who have to work extra to earn off-farm income or have night jobs.”
HB 2800 allows schools to be reimbursed up to 15 cents per meal if the breakfast or lunch has locally grown food. By purchasing local fresh fruits and vegetables, schools both support Oregon agriculture and help Oregon children be healthier.
Clem would enjoy discussing legislation all day, but he’s got to run. He’s improving his pesticide bill and allocating time and donations to Democrat candidates Betty Komp, Claudia Kyle and Jefferson Smith. And he’s got to pick up his daughter from school.