Bev Clarno’s home looks like many others in its quiet Eagle Crest neighborhood: the elegant roof peaks, the tall windows, the roundabout drive way; it is the perfect example of Central Oregonian architecture. However, inside is a veritable treasure trove of one woman’s long career in the public eye. On the walls and shelves of her office (or more aptly her trophy room) are plaques and images that tell the story of one woman who was the Speaker of the House, was in the Senate and was in the Federal Government. A woman who went From Pigs to Politics.
Bev was raised in rural Central Oregon during the depression, on her family’s farm. There, she learned the value of hard work and independence. She also saw first hand how bad governance can effect small business owners. She made it her goal to one day serve in the legislature, to try and make sure government is a force for good, instead of a force for antagonism. After a stint of living in Lake Oswego, where she learned first hand the increasing cultural differences between city and country, Bev returned to Central Oregon, and when a house seat opened up in the 1988 election, she decided to run.
“One of my high school friends said Bev, you’re a nice lady, but we don’t elect women over here, so I thought, oh man am I gonna have to work hard, which I did, I went to over 10,000 doors in my district.”
After her election, where she beat the then mayor of Bend in the primary and a prominent teacher from Redmond in the general, Bev went to Salem with the goal of being a watch dog for the Oregonian taxpayer. She made it her goal to always be responsible with tax dollars, which often put her at odds with many on both sides of the political aisle. Among the spending areas she helped reign in were the travel budget and the printing budget.
In her fourth term in the House, she ran for, and became the 59th Speaker of the House, only the second woman in Oregon history to do so.
“You have to ask each member for their vote, so I asked this one guy from Salem and he says, well, I don’t know if I’ll vote for you or not because I really think women should be home in the kitchen making cookies, and I said, you know I’ve raised 3,000 hogs and I’ve castrated 200 in a day, and I think I’m tough enough to be speaker.”
In 1996, Bev decided to run for State Treasurer, as a means to better protect the tax payer, but was defeated by the incumbent. She then took a few years off from public life, only to re-emerge in 2000 as the new Senator for the 27th District. That senate year was a peculiar one, as it was the first in Oregon history to be tied 15-15
between both parties. As Republican leader, she was crucial in development of an operating memorandum with Democratic leader (and current governor) Kate Brown.
During her career in state government, Bev always made a point to be intentionally bipartisan. She didn’t operate along party lines, and always looked for talent and expertise above partisan ties. When several members of her party mutineered a bill, she removed them from the committee the bill was working through and replaced them with a Democrat who was more suited to the job.
In 2003, she was asked by the Bush Administration to oversee the Northwest District of the Department of Health and Human Services, where she oversaw the delivery of Federal services to all of the northwest states.
Bev Clarno has been a staple of Central Oregon politics for over 30 years. Her legacy of the advancement of women, of the tight monitoring of tax dollars and of unflinching bipartisanship has put her in the hall of fame of Oregon’s best political voices. Bev is currently giving talks about her career in promotion of her new Autobiography, From Pigs to Politics: The Bev Clarno Story.