SALEM — New House District 15 Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis has spent nearly all of her life surrounded by the business world, whether it was growing up on a Tangent-area farm, or, more recently, operating a company that ships mid-valley grass seed straw internationally.
So the 39-year-old Oregon State University graduate — her birthday was last week — is well-versed in the art of negotiation and compromise.
It’s a skill that will come in handy during her first term as a Republican in a statehouse dominated by Democrats.
“We are a superminority,” Boshart Davis said before Tuesday morning’s opening session. “When I was running for this position, I didn’t think I would be part of a group with a title. Although the Democrats have a supermajority, that will require a lot of people having to come to a consensus and that’s not always an easy thing to do.”
House District 15 includes part of Linn County, which traditionally votes for Republicans, and North Albany in Benton County, which traditionally votes for Democrats.
She succeeds retired Rep. Andy Olson, a fellow Republican who earned a reputation for being able to form working relationships with members of both parties.
Boshart Davis earned her Capitol seat in November, garnering 15,268 votes against Democrat opponent Jarred Taylor, with 10,340 votes and independent candidate Cynthia Hyatt with 1,246 votes. She will serve on the Business and Labor, Agriculture and Land Use and the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction committees.
A quick glance around her new office makes it easy to see what makes Boshart Davis tick. On her walls: a wooden American flag she bought at an ag auction, photos of her family, and a bowl of hazelnuts grown on her family’s farm.
Boshart Davis said she's committed to working with others in Salem to ensure that all Oregonians are heard, including those who live outside of Portland.
Democrats have hit the ground running in proposing an agenda that includes major gun control legislation, carbon cap-and-trade, additional school funding, backfilling the Public Employees Retirement System and pesticide control issues.
Boshart Davis said the hot button issue is Senate Bill 501, which would impose new requirements on gun owners, cap ammunition clips to no more than five cartridges and ammunition purchases to no more than 20 cartridges per month.
“I’ve been inundated with emails and comments about SB 501,” she said. “About 90 percent of my emails have been about this and the comments are nearly 100 percent against it. They think it goes way too far.”
Boshart Davis said the session so far includes 16 bills that deal with pesticide issues, which she had hoped would go through the Agriculture and Land Use committee, where she's a member. But the bills are slated to go through the Energy and Environment committee.
Carbon cap-and-trade will be a major issue this session, Boshart Davis said.
“I sit on the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction and our first meeting will be Friday afternoon,” she said. “The good news is that farmers do a lot to sequester carbon. Our orchards, grass seed farms, vineyards and tree farms all sequester carbon.”
But farmers and other ag-related businesses will see the cost of fuel and other inputs increase with new cap-and-trade rules, she said. A key will be to “make sure that people all around the state recognize how cap-and- trade will affect all Oregonians” and that there will be financial costs associated with reducing carbon output.
The underfunded Public Employees Retirement System will again be a major topic, she said.
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“It’s a big issue for every government budget. What I hope everyone understands is that the economy is good right now, but we shouldn’t make decisions about PERS without looking long-term and thinking about what will happen when there is a downturn in the economy, and we all know that day will come.”
Some elected officials have discussed trying to rescind the state’s kicker system, which requires tax refunds to Oregonians when revenue for a two-year budget period exceeds projections by at least 2 percent. Officials proposing such a move believe those funds could be used for schools or to build up the state's rainy-day contingency funds or to help pay down the PERS unfunded liability.
But Boshart Davis said her constituents are against the move: “Ninety-nine percent of people contacting me say they want to keep their kicker refunds."
She's committed to working with veteran representative and fellow Republican Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, whose District 17 covers most of rural Linn County; Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, whose District 8 covers Corvallis, Albany and rural Benton County; and a fellow newcomer to Salem, Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene, who succeeds Phil Barnhart in House District 11, which covers much of Lane County as well as the southern half of Linn County.
Wilde defeated Republican challenger Mark Herbert in November and will serve on the House Committee on Energy and Environment and House Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness.
“Senator Gelser and I want to try to meet every week or at least every other week and I’ve already signed onto Rep. Wilde’s bill against sex trafficking,” Boshart Davis said. “I think rural communities are important to him and we can work together.”
Boshart Davis was encouraged to learn that the former International Paper site in Millersburg is at the top of the state’s list for $25 million in funding. The final decision will be made at a Feb. 21 meeting of the Oregon Transportation Commission.
Boshart Davis said her company is currently moving containers to Portland or onto Tacoma, noting that Portland traffic congestion continues to stagnate.
Boshart Davis is working on a bill that would require the state to research how mandated programs such as a proposed paid family leave for all businesses would financially affect both small businesses and nonprofits.
“Where is the funding going to come from?” Boshart Davis said. “Good intentions often have unintended consequences. I don’t like adding new laws, but this is a conversation that needs to be held.”
Tuesday’s opening session was brief — about 30 minutes — and focused primarily on housekeeping issues and introducing the first round of bills, read by title only.
Boshart Davis had a full schedule of meetings, including the Future Caucus, a bipartisan group of elected officials under 42 that will focus on issues of concern to millennials, such as early childhood education, criminal justice reform and student loan debt.
And life goes on outside the Capitol building.
“We finished Sam’s science project at 8 o’clock last night,” Boshart Davis said of her 11-year-old daughter, who plans to spend Friday at the Capitol with her mother.
“She asked me to buy her a blue blazer so she will look more professional when she’s here,” Boshart Davis said.
Her two older daughters, Kyndall, 16, and Ashlynn, 13, are busy with sports and school, and her husband, Geoff Davis, owns a business.
“We have cellphones and I’m only 25 minutes from home,” Boshart Davis said. “We’ve always been a busy family. The girls want me to talk to their classes. I think that’s a great opportunity to get 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds involved in the political process.”