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OUR VIEW: Dean of the House

Published on January 8, 2018 4:14PM

Rep. Bob Jenson signs paperwork on the first day of the legislative session Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 at the state capitol in Salem.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Rep. Bob Jenson signs paperwork on the first day of the legislative session Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 at the state capitol in Salem.

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Politics isn’t easy.

Combining personal principles with the will of your constituents and coming up with a workable policy is one thing.

Selling that policy to a body of differing principles and wills and agendas is another.

Coming home at the end of a day with your conscience intact and something to show for your efforts is something else entirely.

For 18 years, Bob Jenson represented our corner of Eastern Oregon in the halls of the Capitol in Salem, and for 18 years he navigated the delicate balance of standing firm on his own principles, pursuing the most good for District 58 and negotiating with the other forces at work in the Legislature.

At the end of each day, each session, each term, Jenson could stand proud by his work.

He was known as the Dean of the House, and when he stepped down in 2014 he was the longest serving member of the body. He was respected on both sides of the aisle, in part because the aisle didn’t mean much to him.

When Jenson first won the seat in 1997, he ran as a Democrat and retired Blue Mountain Community College professor. Soon disillusioned by the party, he became an Independent in 1998 and then a Republican in 1999.

The label didn’t define him, though, and the man who made Pendleton his home instead focused on ways to make peoples’ lives better.

His philosophy on the environment, shaped by his upbringing on a Montana ranch, drove him to sponsor a wolf compensation bill as the predators moved into northeastern Oregon. His background as a teacher pushed him to approve a corporate tax increase to help fund Oregon schools.

He developed the habit of bringing west-end legislators out east to see his district and better understand his point of view.

He was ambitious, but not in a political sense. He wasn’t interested in higher office, and keeping his seat longer and longer into his retirement was his way of putting his experience to good use.

Jenson’s death this week has brought both condolences and praise from all over, from Gov. Kate Brown and Rep. Greg Walden to State Sen. Bill Hansell and State Rep. Greg Barreto.

It should also serve as a pause of reminder for everyone in politics that a life well-lived is one grounded in character and compromise. Jenson understood both, and we’re proud that he represented us.


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