SALEM""Strengthening the Southern Oregon's influence at the state Capitol, state Rep. Peter Buckley of Ashland was elected this week to the No. — position in the 31-member House Democratic caucus.




As House majority whip, the Ashland Democrat will play a pivotal role in shaping the House Democrats' policy agenda as well as steering debate on issues that will come to the fore when lawmakers meet again for the month of February.




"I wanted to move up in leadership to make the largest contribution I can," Buckley said in a telephone interview Friday, adding that during the interim he will continue focusing on candidate recruitment to build a stronger House Democratic majority.




Known for his non-confrontational style, Buckley credits the tactical skills he developed as a stage actor and director for helping him to bring together policymakers and stakeholders, particularly in his work as chairman of the House Education Committee.




Still, Buckley has not cowered from political fights, whether it's trying to boost funding for Rogue Community College or delivering a rebuke against cuts to social service programs; and he isn't afraid to take jabs at House Republicans who may stand in the way of Democrats' progressive agenda.




Though well liked and widely admired for his tenacity, Buckley is not without detractors, including moderates within his own party who say privately that Buckley is a bit of a firebrand, and worry that his strong liberal bent is not in harmony with most Oregon Democrats' more centrist political leanings.




Buckley will serve as majority whip through the interim, and would run for re-election in 2009 should he wish to continue at the post during the next biennium.




On the Republican side, Rep. Dennis Richardson of Central Point, will continue as House Republican whip, a post he was elected to this session.




In the Senate, where leadership is chosen at the beginning of each two-year legislative cycle, Sen. Alan Bates of Ashland continues as Senate majority whip, serving as Buckley's counterpart in the upper chamber.




Bates is serving also on the Legislative Emergency Board, which handles budget matters between regular sessions of the Legislature. Also on the so-called E-Board is Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls; and on the House panel is Rep. George Gilman, R-Medford.




Chris Rizo covers the state Legislature for the Ashland Daily Tidings. He can be reached at csrizo@hotmail.com.