Bev Clarno adds secretary of state to her distinguished resumé of public service

By Courtney Cobb

Deschutes County commissioner, Oregon state representative, speaker of the House, state senator, regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Central Electric Cooperative board director: Bev Clarno has held each of these positions with distinction and honor, fully committed to serving the communities she represents.

Politics was not Bev’s first calling, but she can vividly remember the day she decided to pursue office.

“I was running my hog farm, and government regulators would inspect my barns,” she says. “Sometimes they would fine me and say I was doing something wrong. I thought the government should help you do it right rather than be so negative in their approach to get things right.”

At the time of those inspections in the early 1970s, Bev decided she would run for the state legislature once her kids were grown. The rest, as they say, is history.

While Bev holds fond memories from the rewarding positions that took her to Salem, Seattle, throughout the Pacific Northwest and to Washington, D.C., she most enjoys engaging and representing her local community.

“Local issues have always been closer to my heart than the issues in Seattle or Salem because these issues connected me to the people I know,” Bev says. “That’s where we live, that’s our community, that’s the place where we want everything to work right and have people work together to solve any issues we may have.”

This philosophy extends to Bev’s service beyond elected office. A dedicated community servant, Bev served on numerous boards, including those of
the Oregon Historical Society, Maryhill Museum, Deschutes River Conservancy, Deschutes County Fair and Expo, Central Oregon Community College Foundation, Central Oregon Youth Investment Foundation and Redmond Chamber of Commerce.

A Cooperative Mindset

Bev Clarno shares a laugh with fellow board members Kelly McFarlane, left, Dan Steelhammer and Tom Strand
Bev Clarno shares a laugh with fellow board members Kelly McFarlane, left, Dan Steelhammer and Tom Strand at the 2019 Central Electric Co-op annual meeting.
Photo by Brent ten Pas

The Clarno family’s commitment to Central Electric Cooperative runs deep.

Bev’s husband, Ray, served on the board of directors throughout the 2000s. At the time, Bev was a regional director for the Department of Health and Human Services—a position based in Seattle.

She recalls one of the co-op members prompted Ray to get involved.

“At the time, I talked with Ray about having been lobbied by a lobbyist in Salem who represented the cooperatives, Bev says. “I thought it was a good idea.”

The lobbyist, representing the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association, left an indelible impression on Bev about co-ops and the instrumental role they play in serving rural communities.

It is a message that has stuck with Bev and Ray through the years.

After serving for a decade, Ray stepped aside and turned to Bev, asking, “Why don’t you do it?”

Bev laughs as she recalls the conversation. At the time, she was heavily involved in the community, serving on the boards of Deschutes County Fair and Expo, Central Oregon Youth Investment Foundation and Redmond Chamber of Commerce.

It did not take much to convince her. Bev realized the importance of providing reliable electricity at an affordable price. It is a guiding principle she holds to this day.

“It’s my goal to keep rates as low as possible because they are my rates, too,” Bev explains.

Her experience as a hog farmer and irrigator has made her conscientious about what it takes for farmers to raise crops and do so in a manner to control costs and make a living.

Bev also takes the seventh cooperative principle, “Concern for Community,” to heart. CEC gives back to the Central Oregon community it serves through a variety of sponsorships, donations, scholarships and employee volunteerism.

“We help in our local community in a variety of ways—from two scholarships to Central Oregon Youth Challenge to helping with our local 4-H livestock sales, a Central Oregon Community College Foundation Scholarship and a multitude of other nonprofit organizations,” Bev says.

It should come as no surprise that Bev fully supports the National Rural Electric Association’s Washington, D.C., Youth Tour.

CEC’s board of directors selects two students each year to send to the nation’s capital for one week to learn about the political process and our nation’s history, meet with House and Senate members, and gain a greater appreciation for cooperatives.

Bev says she loves to see young students inspired by these trips and have their eyes opened to the possibilities of what they can do someday.

Bev also finds it rewarding to serve with a good group of dedicated and well meaning men and women on CEC’s board of directors. She enjoys visiting with fellow members at the cooperative’s annual meeting or in the community, sharing the co-op’s story and learning about issues impacting members.

Above all, Bev says she continues to serve because “I love our cooperative.”

Powerful Grassroots Voices

As Central Oregon continues to grow, Bev is concerned about the loss of its rural identity. She sees an ever-growing urban/rural divide.

With her identity steeped in ranching and agriculture, Bev stresses CEC members must engage with their local representatives. From her experience as a state legislator and now as secretary of state, Bev says it is imperative for legislators to hear from their constituents.

“You have a vote, and they will listen to you,” Bev says. “A co-op member talking to you about a concern they have is a lot more urgent for me to listen to than a company’s CEO.”

Bev applauds CEC’s involvement with ORECA-Action and its political grassroots efforts. ORECA-Action represents the legislative and regulatory interests of Oregon’s 18 not-for-profit, consumerowned electric cooperatives.

Bev stresses the importance for members to join the network so they can easily contact lawmakers and tell thecooperative’s side of the story while protecting the co-op from electric rate hikes due to oppressive regulations.

“As a former legislator, I expected the managers and ORECA executive director to lobby me, but when the members lobbied me, that is a better voice,” she says.

As lawmakers continue to discuss and push for more mandates on electric utilities, grassroots efforts to inform legislators could not be more important. CEC is at the forefront of many discussions surrounding solar power, vegetation management, electric vehicles and more.

“We will see more mandates that will impact our cooperative,” Bev says. “All the more reason for members to sign up up for ORECA-Action. We have to let them know our concerns and how their mandates affect our lives in rural areas.”