Former Wallowa County commissioner Ben Boswell has accepted the position as legislative director for the Oregon State Grange and one of his first acts in his new position was to present Rep. Greg Smith with a list of top 10 priorities for the Grange.
Boswell gave the list to Smith when the state representative was visiting Enterprise for his town hall meeting on Jan. 9. That's one legislator Boswell can cross off the list of 90 that he, Grange lobbyist Jim Welsh and Grange president Phyllis Wilson plan to meet with in the coming month. The trio intend to meet face to face with all 60 representatives and 30 senators and present them with that list and get to work rebuilding the Oregon State Grange political strength.
"There is work to be done to restore the reputation of the Grange," Boswell admitted. "We're going to try and make our presence known. Historically, the Grange has started ballot measures; initiative and referendum; provided for public finance of streets and roads; supported the graduated income tax, based on people's ability to pay, to support public services; and led the effort to defeat the sales tax nine times in its 136-year history. We have Rural Free Delivery of our mail because of the actions of the Eagle Creek Grange in Clackamas County and the creation of county extension service was due to Grange lobbying."
Up until the mid-1990s, the Oregon State Grange could boast a membership of approximately 30,000, but when a key service - low-cost insurance for members - was lost, that membership dropped to 7,000, according to Wilson. That decline has ended and membership is again picking up, she said. "Now we're having an increase in membership and it's because of people like Ben Boswell, a dedicated Grange member who is getting the word out."
Boswell said the Fraternal Order of Patrons of Husbandry - the official name of the Grange organization - intends to continue that comeback. The list of 10 traditional and contemporary issues the Grange has prepared includes congressional redistricting, land use, state and county fair funding, 4-H and FFA leadership education, ballot measure reform, highway maintenance and fiscal reform, pest and predator control, and veterans services.
There are plenty of other services not on that top 10, but at the top of the Grange long list, including funding for farm extension services, expansion of broad band services in rural areas, and more.
"If you didn't know better you'd think six to eight of them were Wallowa County issues," former 16-year county commissioner Boswell joked. "These days when somebody says, 'why doesn't someone do something about this issue.' Well, that's their opportunity to join the Grange."
There are plenty of "smaller" issues that Granges tackle as well. A "shining example" of a Grange member's accomplishment is the success of a Josephine County Grange member, Wilson said. "She was deaf and she started the ball rolling to have infants given hearing tests. Her plan started in her local Grange, went through the counties and is now a state law."
Another example of how Granges work locally is the 2008 fund-raiser in Clackamas County that raised a $10,000 co-pay within four months for another deaf member's coclear implant surgery.
"We're a grassroots organization," said Wilson, who is based in Salem. "We have leadership opportunities for young and old. It's a chance to become very involved in your local community and to become more informed on legislative issues. We perform hundreds of hours of community service work such as supporting food banks, providing free dictionaries to school children, helping families that suffer tragedies and more."
In addition, part of every Grange meeting is the lectures program which can be anything educational or recreational or a combination of both and most granges have either a potluck or coffee and cookie social hour.