From state school to state legislature
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013 00:01
Among Betsy Close’s fondest memories, is the visit she and her father made to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific [Punchbowl Crater] in Honolulu, when she was merely a child. At the site of this cemetery, where over 60,000 veterans are now interred, Close experienced an overwhelming sense of patriotism.
“My dad was a World War II army captain and our visit to Punchbowl Crater was extremely moving,” Close said. “Monuments like that affect me because they show me the true cost of bad decisions. They show me that sometimes, as a nation, we pay for what other nations do. I learned that at a very young age.”
With a bachelor’s degree from Washington State University and Central Washington University, and a master’s from Oregon State University, over the years, this once-young patriot has evolved into an educator, mother of four and respected politician.
While living in Benton Country for the last 36 years, Close has taught public school and worked as a job developer and instructor. She also served for six years as a state representative and was chairman of the House Water & Environment Committee and House Business, Labor and Consumer Affairs.
Following the unforeseen departure of Sen. Frank Morse in September, Close began another chapter in her career, being sworn in as Oregon State Senator for District 8.
With her new position, Close became the eighth woman currently serving in the state senate, and the second female republican.
Stan Baker, first vice chair of the Benton County Republican Party and a Ph.D. candidate at OSU, ran against Close for the senate seat.
“I think that with her experience and relationships within Benton County and district 8 she is well prepared for the position,” Baker said. “She has the energy, she’s a hard worker and I believe she is the right person for the job. I think she’s going to do a good job and I am certainly hoping to watch her succeed.”
Close’s election came as a surprise to many Oregonians who favored Morse, a moderate Republican with a tendency to reach across the aisle. As a conservative, Close’s opinions and proposals have often garnered scrutiny by the press and her senatorial counterparts.
“As the marines say: What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” Close said. “I have learned to accept criticism and to be forthright in defending myself which is better than having an easy road because you learn much more and you grow.”
Among her more contentious moments was her drafting of a bill that would require Oregon voters to present proof of U.S. citizenship prior to registering to vote. While opponents of the bill believed it had potential to cause “disproportionate harm” to African American and hispanic voters, Close’s main concern regarded non-tax payers being able to vote.
“The Oregon constitution does require citizenship to be involved in voting and it wasn’t being enforced,” Close said. “I received a letter from the elections commission where they admitted that non-citizens had been voting and that they had not prosecuted a single one. There were people from Canada, Europe and Mexico involved and the question is if you’re not a taxpayer, should you be voting for who’s to lead this state? That’s why I did it.”
While this bill has been put on the back-burner, Close’s main focus has shifted to rural economic development and the prison population in Oregon.
“I am concerned about our prison population in this state,” Close said. “We need to come up with new methods of dealing with prisoners so we can rehabilitate them if possible. A lot of those incarcerated is because of drugs and we need to deal with that.”
Close hopes to develop a program similar to Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE), which is an initiative launched in Hawaii in 2004 aimed at reducing probation violations by drug offenders and others at risk of recidivism. Probationers receive immediate sanction such as reincarceration following a failed drug test or missed appointment with a probation officer.
“The state of Hawaii has a very effective drug testing program for their prisons to try and keep prisoners accountable,” Close said. “It’s very controversial, but these are the things we are learning about.”
Regarding rural economic development in Oregon, Close is willing to do what she can to make sure business and industry are not being over-regulated and therefore unable to make a profit.
Additionally, Close shares the same recent concerns as many OSU students regarding continued increases in tuition costs. With the “Wear the Square” campaign on campus, Close also encourages students to bring their concerns and arguments to ASOSU officers who can relay the information to a lobbyist at the capitol.
While they differ in some areas of the political spectrum, Close and her predecessor, Morse, are both free-market advocates whose primary concerns are for the economy, job production and revenues for the government.
“That’s what we need right now,” Close said. “Making sure people have jobs and income is the top priority.”
Gabriella Morrongiello, news reporter