Bill Hansell has seen folks who stayed too long. He’ll make sure he doesn’t.
The Republican three-term state senator from Athena will not seek reelection in 2024. He made the announcement Thursday to give potential candidates time to prepare.
Hansell’s health is good. He’s still working hard for District 29, the state’s second-largest Senate district. He and his wife, Margaret, soon will celebrate 56 years of marriage.
“I just feel it’s the right time,” he told me Thursday afternoon.
When his current term ends in January 2025, he’ll have completed 42 years in public office. Were he elected to the Senate again, he’d be in his 80s while serving.
As the saying goes, Hansell is one of the good guys. You can trust his word. His ego doesn’t get in the way of his brain. He gets along across the aisle and has been instrumental in getting Portland-area legislators out to visit Eastern Oregon. He serves on the Legislature’s budget-writing panel.
He consumes less time speaking on the Senate floor or in committee meetings than many lawmakers. He also introduces fewer bills than some colleagues. Hansell said he tries to concentrate on bills that can accomplish what needs to be done instead of ones that make a political statement but are destined to go nowhere.
“If a need arose, a constituent had something they needed help with, I’m going to try,” he said. “I think I’ve been fairly eclectic.”
His focus is rural Oregon and constituent needs, but many of the outcomes resonate statewide. He’s a cancer survivor and pays attention to cancer legislation. He’s big on FFA and youth programs. He cares deeply about domestic violence issues.
A Pendleton resident once asked him why restrooms at Oregon rest areas didn't have posters about sexual trafficking, as did rest stops back East. Hansell researched the issue, discovered Oregon law prevented such posters and got the law changed.
He teamed with Rep. Bobby Levy, R-Echo, and Sen. Kathleen Taylor, D-Portland, to close a loophole that allows teachers to receive lighter sentences than sports coaches if convicted of sexually abusing students.
And he keeps trying to get potatoes enshrined as the state vegetable.
Hansell’s always had his priorities in order. He is a person of faith, of devotion to family, of commitment to his constituents and to Oregon.
“If you keep to your priorities, not just on paper, God opens the door that He wants you to move through,” he said.
The time to run for the Legislature came in 2012, when Sen. David Nelson was retiring. Nelson encouraged Hansell.
During his 30 years as Umatilla County commissioner, Hansell turned down the recruiting pitches to seek a state office. With six children involved in many activities, he had no interest in spending much of his time on the other side of the state.
“Until the kids were out of the house, on their way to college, it just wasn’t an option,” he said.
He’s now made the 272-mile trip from his driveway to Salem hundreds of times, probably thousands counting his previous travels on county business. He passes the time listening to audiobooks by great authors of today and yesterday. His current selection is about Winston Churchill.
Hansell has 22 months of legislative work still to enjoy and accomplish. Perhaps this Capital Chatter anecdote from the 2021 Legislature illustrates his approach:
As the session neared its end, Sen. Kayse Jama, D-Portland, talked about being welcomed as a new legislator.
“Jama recalled one conversation in particular. Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, told him, ‘We may disagree on policy, but you will never be my enemy.’
“‘And that had a profound impact on me,’ Jama said.”
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