Jack Zika will take on a task next month that no Redmondite has in 40 years — representing the area in the state Legislature.

After doing research before our interview, the 41-year-old Republican determined that the last Redmond resident to serve as state representative while living in the city was the legendary Sam Johnson. Johnson, who is known for giving that helped the High Desert Museum and the preservation of the Metolius River headwaters, served in the Legislature from 1965 to 1978 before retiring and serving as Redmond mayor for five years before his death in 1984.

“Talk about good company,” Zika said. “I’m not going to compare myself to Sam at all, but it’s very big shoes to fill. I’m truly honored to be in this position, especially representing Redmond at the state level.”

While Bev Clarno, a former state House speaker and senator now lives in Redmond, she did not live here while she was in office, Zika said.

Zika defeated Democrat Eileen Kiely of Sunriver in the Nov. 6 District 53 election to replace retiring Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver. The district takes up much of Deschutes County from Redmond south, but surrounds all but the north part of the city of Bend, most of which is in District 54.

Zika will be sworn in Jan. 14, with the 2019 legislative session starting Jan. 22.

Zika, a Realtor who has lived in Redmond for 10 years, likes that the district provides rural and urban elements, something Redmond also has.

One of Zika’s priorities is the affordable housing crisis in Central Oregon, particularly dealing with a state pilot program that Bend was recently selected for over Redmond. The law will allow Bend to develop 35 acres for affordable and market rate housing outside its urban growth boundary without going through the state’s often cumbersome expansion process.

Affordable housing

Zika wants to change the law authorizing the pilot program to award projects to two cities. It was originally supposed to be awarded to a city over 25,000 residents and one under 25,000, but no smaller city was able to meet the application requirements.

“Our median home price here in Redmond just went over $300,000,” Zika said. “If you’re working here at the coffee shop, you can’t afford a home.”

As a parent of 8 and 4-year-old children, Zika said affordable housing is an issue that could impact their future.

“My worry is they aren’t going to be able to afford to live here when they grow up,” he said.

Another bill Zika said could help with affordable housing is to allow cities and counties to collaborate to change exclusive farm use zoning designations. He would like to see the more flexible multiple use agriculture zone designation be used more, which would allow for housing, though not as dense as that within cities.

Other bills

Zika also plans to file a bill that, if passed, would raise the minimum value of stolen products needed for police to be required to respond to petty theft calls, which he said is now $20. He said police are spending a quarter of their time responding to petty theft calls at places like Walmart. He wants to see smaller theft cases sent directly to district attorney’s offices.

“We’d have a lot less police hours spent going to Walmart, when they can be on the streets doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Zika said.

Freeing more hours for police officers could lessen the need for hiring additional officers, which has been a contentious issue in Redmond recently, he said.

Another bill Zika plans to file would give nonprofit agencies more time to spend money awarded to them in grants. He said this would allow agencies like NeighborImpact to use the money on longer-term projects, like a homeless shelter, instead of using it on short-term solutions, like vouchers.

Education is an issue Zika wants to see action on. He said he wants to fully fund schools, as well as see the state help pay for more behavioral health counselors in schools. He said that will assist teachers.

Certain traffic problems in Zika’s district need state attention, he said. That includes the Highway 126 intersection with 35th Street. While left-turn lanes were recently added, that might not be enough.

“I would like to see what we can do about a roundabout or a traffic light,” he said.

From Redmond to Salem

Along with working in real estate, Zika became familiar with land use issues during his time on the Redmond Urban Area Planning Commission. He said he will leave his post on the commission before taking office.

Zika expressed concern about how to pay for Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed $23.6 billion budget.

“I’m kind of troubled by how she thinks we’re going to get there and how many new taxes we’re going to have,” he said. “If we raise taxes that much, it’s going to increase the cost of goods and services — property taxes, sales taxes, it all adds up to hurt businesses and families.”

As for one of Oregon’s hot button issues — Zika likes that Oregon is one of two states that mostly require full-service gasoline. But he said he would like to see exceptions for people filling up after gas stations are closed to go beyond certain rural areas.

“I kind of like having a gas attendant, but I do think, after hours, we should be able to pump our own gas,” he said.

With Democrats holding three-fifths supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature, Zika said Republicans are limited in power, but must keep coming up with options.

“You try to come up with the better alternative,” he said. “You don’t want them to have runaway taxes on everything.”

Zika was the right choice for the planning commission and for state representative, Redmond Mayor George Endicott said. Endicott called Zika a “sober and thoughtful person” with a great sense of humor.

“He will do a great job representing Redmond and Central Oregon,” Endicott said.

Zika, a native of Cincinnati, said he will be an accessible legislator. He plans to hold town hall meetings and open a district office.

“People can just walk in and talk to us,” he said. “I want to be very accessible.”

— Reporter: 541-548-2186, gfolsom@redmondspokesman.com