Perspective from Nohea Waiwaiole
On May 16 I accompanied a few other Oregon Tech students to attend the Technical and Regional Universities (TRU) Day at the Oregon State Capitol. Students from Oregon Tech, Southern Oregon University, Eastern Oregon University, and Western Oregon University, all came together to meet with legislatures and advocate on behalf of TRU schools in support of state funding for our public universities.
The group of students from Oregon Tech included about twelve of us, three from sports teams, two from the Key Club, the editor in chief of the student newspaper, the former ASOIT president, and a couple of other students all from the Klamath Falls campus. We met up with at least five more Oregon Tech students from the Wilsonville campus, most of them members of the Wilsonville ASOIT.
The morning started off with coffee, pastries, a pep rally band, and a mascot dance off (which Hootie undoubtedly won). Everyone I talked to was not sure what to exactly expect from the rest of the day, as some confusion came up about what we were actually doing at the Capitol.
Soon we were organized into meetings with our respective schools, including administration and staff, and state and local representatives. We were told we were going to be meeting face-to-face with legislators and given a brief rundown on what to expect. We were also handed a page with minor explanations of the talking points we were to be advocating on behalf of later that day.
The talking points included, $100 million more in funding for TRU schools to negate tuition hikes and staff or faculty cuts. An additional $284 million to complete capital construction projects, that had already been agreed upon by TRU schools. And lastly, renewal of the sports action lottery funding, which uses lottery funds to support athletics throughout Oregon Universities, such as traveling costs and scholarships.
From who I talked to, this was new information to most of us. We were then given a short training session on the do’s and don’ts of lobbying a legislative member, before being put in groups and sent off to meet with legislatures the rest of the day.
Do’s included, sharing a personal story that would be memorable for legislatures, keeping the talks brief as we only had 15-minute meeting slots, and staying on task with the three talking points.
Don’ts included, heckling or bombarding the legislatures, getting into a heated argument or abrasively telling them they are wrong and screwing over college students.
After becoming fully equipped in how to be a lobbyist on capitol hill, we sat in on probably the most uneventful senate hearing in history. Each representative welcomed the respective school from his or her district. Each bill or motion they were discussing was passed anonymously without debate.
Later, I met with three different representatives with three different groups. The groups were each random and made up of students and faculty from other schools also supporting TRU Day.
The first legislature I was scheduled to meet with was the Democratic Caucus Majority Leader, Ginny Burdick, but she was busy and we met with her legislative assistant 30-minutes later.
Our group included two French exchange students from Eastern Oregon University, who thought they were just getting a free trip to Salem. Didn’t we all. The two foreign exchange students understandably expressed their uncomfortableness with lobbying on behalf of Oregon college students to Oregon legislatures.
The next legislative meeting, I was in a group with two faculty members from Western Oregon University (WOU). We met with representative David Gomberg, who serves on the Joint Ways & Means Committee, responsible for overseeing budget policy in Oregon.
After giving a short spiel on our talking points, Gomberg educated us on the bigger issues regarding Oregon budget cuts. A very one-sided debate took place between the two WOU faculty and representative Gomberg, while I quietly observed. Obviously, the politician won the debate and it was clear we were not going to change his mind regarding where funding and reductions should be prioritized. This is where a little more than a paragraph of information on each talking point could have been helpful.
The last representative I met with was very agreeable and went on about the importance of education and the paradox of the current budget deficit in Oregon, yet revenue surplus.
All in all, I found the day to be very interesting and informative on the legislation process in Oregon. I learned about the importance of Oregon Tech’s own Government Relations officer and how much work such a job title entails, because lobbying is hard. And, I hope everyone is not leaving it into the hands of us, a gang of students who did not know what they were signing up for, or exactly what they were advocating for, to get Oregon legislatures to agree to giving us $100 million more.