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Paul Evans: From communications instructor to freshman state representative

Rep. Paul Evans, D-Salem, Chemeketa communications instructor.

Rep. Paul Evans, D-Salem, Chemeketa communications instructor.

Story and photo By Brad Bakke

As the college prepares for midterms, he prepares for his first day in the Oregon Legislature.

Paul Evans, a Chemeketa communications instructor, is the newly elected House District 20 representative.

Evans took his oath of office on Jan. 12. The opening day of the session was Feb. 2.

Evans said that he took the oath on “the day the Oregon Ducks almost won the national championship. I am a very devout Beaver fan, but even I was rooting for the Ducks.”

The transition from his college service to his service in the House is being achieved with the help and support from others.

“I’ve had some good counsel and advice from some of the senior members here that I value,” he said.

“Their counsel was, ‘Hey, your policies are actually pretty good. You’re bright, you care – breathe. Take off that lens, try some other lenses” – to provide a change of perspective – “even if you know they’re not a particularly appropriate lens. It’s still worth the look every now and then.”

Evans said that former state Rep. Vicki Berger, a former Chemeketa employee who previously held the seat, also was valuable.

“She has been extremely helpful. Her advice was much more practical … very sound,” he said, detailing “how to approach the job and live up to the things that we all talk about,” a reference to campaign promises.

Evans also said he was appreciative of the advice that he had received from friends.

“They’re gracious and helpful in trying to help me figure out how to navigate through this adjustment,” he said.

“There are people who were very supportive during the campaign who have made their agenda for the future a little more clear, which is good. Now I know where we can work together and where we can’t.”

Evans said the sheer scale of information he must deal with each day in his new role has been impressive.

“Fortunately, it’s not a total surprise,” he said. “I had worked as a staffer and as a governor’s assistant. Now, as someone who likes to learn, it’s been fun for me.”

There are other benefits to being a state representative.

“The ability to have conversations that I was not able to have before has been a huge change,” he said. “It is a fact – I’m not sure that it’s a good fact, but it’s a fact – that now when I make a phone call, it’s returned.”

An added bonus: He said it was nice to have an assigned parking space so that he doesn’t have to worry about dropping quarters every few minutes in the meters.

Evans said he was focusing on being a citizen legislator, making an effort to represent all of the constituents in his district.

“I try every day to think about … what my constituents and the state of Oregon deserve in a representative. I’m actually probably more thoughtful now … in terms of how I am approaching things,” he said. “I want to make sure that I represent all of the district … even those that I may not understand well.

“There’s an old saying about Congress, but I think it is also true that the legislature. There are show horses and work horses. I am trying very hard to be one of the workhorses, who does all the homework and tries to look at all the angles.”

Active learning is a crucial skill for a freshman legislator.

Berger, the former seat-holder and the wife of former Chemeketa President Jerry Berger, said, “Teaching is a skill which is useful in all endeavors. And for a freshman legislator, being an active learner is also a critically important attribute.

“Chemeketa is an important institution for citizens in the district. I think constituents are well-served when elected officials are connected and informed.”

Part of Evans’ preparation has been drafting proposed bills.

“I have 79 that I have drafted, 30 to 40 of which we will focus on,” he said. “Some of those bills, will have my name on them; some actually will never get a hearing.”

As many as 3,500 to bills will go through the legislative counsel this year, he said.

“There are a few bills that I will be introducing specifically to start a conversation,” he said. “I have no expectation of many of them becoming law because I don’t think that is the end goal. The end goal is coming up with the best policy.”

As a military veteran and a teacher, Evans has drafted several bills that will focus on education and veteran’s issues.

One of the bills he is introducing deals with tax credits for businesses hiring veterans.

“Often tax credits are for only one year. This bill will have a marginal increasing tax credit that will reward businesses for hiring a vet … for at least four years,” he said.

Another bill that Evans is introducing is accreditation protection, which would basically ensure that qualified instructors teach students who get college credit in high school classes.

Evans also wants to introduce a bill requiring every Oregon high school graduate to pass a civics test.

“To me … competence in civics is one of those things I think we should be doing better. I think that we make great workers; at times, I think we make terrible citizens. I want to work on that,” he said.

Evans said that he and his staff worked hard to prepare for the session.

“The preparation has been busy and fun,” he said. “I have been working about 60 hours a week in meetings and outreach with private, public, and non-profit groups. We have been running as fast as we can.

“There are big plans. Both houses have lots of ideas of what they want to do up front. And as I know from military experience, no plan survives initial contact.

“I’m just kind of going to be whistling past the graveyard, excited that I’m here, watching things go, showing up where I believe I’m supposed to be, apologizing for being late to the things I didn’t know I was supposed to be at, and trying to have conversations for the bills that I feel that are important.”

Evans can be reached at his legislative offices by calling (503)986-1420 or emailing Rep.PaulEvans@state.or.us.

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