Boone is the epitome of the citizen legislator

Rep. Deborah Boone, D-Cannon Beach, in 2014 at “Race the Wave,” a tsunami evacuation fun run highlighting local preparedness accomplishments.

Deborah Boone’s announcement that this will be her last year as a state House member for the North Coast sent leaders of both major parties scrambling to consider how best to replace her.

In determining what qualities are desirable in the next person to represent District 32 in Salem, voters might want to look at Boone herself.

Her credentials when she began her seven terms were on point; it was almost as if she had served an apprenticeship. She had worked for 16 years as a legislative staff member for seven lawmakers, including eight years with Elaine Hopson, the Tillamook educator she replaced. She knew how the system worked, the convoluted processes for how a bill becomes law, and the pressing issues. And she had started fostering key relationships needed to be a success in the state Capitol. She also brought to the table her experience serving as a Clatsop County commissioner.

In the years that followed, Boone has served our region well, with modesty and an earnest simplicity, never begging applause or seeking the limelight. In her retirement announcement, she did not brag about accomplishments. Instead, she thanked the district for the privilege of being able to serve.

Her background as an owner of several businesses helped her when drawing up budgets or assessing spending priorities. Her maternal side, and the courage she has shown as her late husband’s caregiver since his cancer diagnosis, was reflected in her compassion for constituents. As a member of Doernbecher Children’s Hospital Foundation Board, she worked to help children in need. She also supported Head Start and was an advocate for abuse victims.

Boone’s service as a Hamlet volunteer firefighter taught her about hands-on leadership and teamwork. When vehicles plunged off the highway in South County, she joined fellow volunteer firefighters in turnouts, helped clear the path for rescue crews and made life-affecting decisions without hesitation.

The original state legislatures in Oregon — and elsewhere around the nation — began with part-time, citizen legislators. Those elected would take a break from their normal vocation for the limited months of the session, returning home when the work of their state was done. Because of this, they brought expertise from farming, fishing, logging, schools and businesses. They were already hard workers. And they offered a nuanced awareness about regional priorities. They knew their neighbors’ concerns — because they listened to them.

Somewhere along the way that commendable concept morphed into the creation of a new breed of professional legislators. We realize the key leaders in the House and Senate must work full time to keep the state running smoothly. Budgets are larger and Oregon government has become more complex, fraught with legal concerns.

But that has ballooned into a system where we observe lawmakers flavored by an “inside-the-(Salem)-Beltway” attitude. Too many think they know best for people in Seaside, Gladstone and Klamath Falls without ever visiting those places — where real Oregonians live. They lack that human connection.

Boone has been a refreshing counterbalance. She has been especially attuned to the fragile, cyclical nature of the coastal economy. Much of her efforts have focused on protecting and preserving fishery-related jobs, while encouraging retraining and alternatives for those edged out of the shrinking industry.

Emergency planning rarely garners headlines — except when there is a disaster and a community is not prepared. Boone has led from Day 1, raising awareness about the vulnerable nature of the low-lying Oregon Coast to tsunamis, earthquakes and severe storms. She has championed seismic upgrades for emergency service buildings and the broadening of ocean mapping so agencies can better prepare for “the big one.” Some critics have been derisive to her zeal, though this somewhat abated following the Japanese tsunami in 2011. One day, possibly soon, we will all thank her for her foresight.

When the dust settles on this calendar year, perhaps Boone will take some applause as she moves to the next phase of her life. But not right now. You can bet that she will work for House District 32 constituents right up to the moment her successor takes the oath.

Her colleague, state Sen. Betsy Johnson, sums Boone up. “She is just one of those good human beings. It’s likely the public will not appreciate how well they have been served by her — someone who was capable and robust and unassuming. Her district is a better place because she was there.”

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