Chris Lehman

Salem Correspondent

Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR affiliate WNIJ-FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.

Chris is a native of rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He was born in the upstairs bedroom of his grandmother's house, and grew up in a 230-year-old log cabin in the woods. Chris traces his interest in journalism to his childhood, when his parents threatened to take away his newspaper if he didn’t do his chores.

In addition to working full time in public radio for the past decade, Chris has also reported from overseas on a freelance basis. He's filed stories from Iraq, Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Northern Ireland, Zimbabwe and Uganda. He lives in Salem with his wife and children.

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Natural gas customers in the Northwest will pay even less to heat their homes this winter. That was the message Thursday from Oregon's three largest natural gas utilities. They issued their prediction at a meeting of the state’s Public Utility Commission.

Chris Lehman / Northwest News Network

The Oregon Department of Revenue has disciplined four employees over their role in approving a fraudulent $2.1 million tax refund. The announcement Wednesday comes a day after the Salem woman who claimed the cash was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison.

Kristofer Björkman / Flickr

A newly certified initiative to allow non-tribal casinos in Oregon sets the stage for a possible showdown over gambling centers in the state. The Oregon Secretary of State's office announced Monday that it has certified an initiative for the ballot that could eventually lead to the region’s first full-service casino not operated by a tribe.

Some African-American hair stylists are objecting to an Oregon licensing rule that means they can't braid hair without taking a two-year course. And they’re asking state lawmakers to take up the cause.

Courtesy StateImpact Florida NPR.

Oregon has joined Washington and 31 other states in getting a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law. The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday that it's approved Oregon's request for more flexibility. Oregon education officials say part of the aim is to shift away from penalizing schools for failing to meet rigid benchmarks. Ben Cannon is Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s the education policy advisor. He says the green light from the feds ends a period of uncertainty for school districts.

ODOT / Flickr

A joint effort in Oregon and Washington to make sure truckers are following safety rules turned up a higher than expected number of weary drivers. More than a quarter of drivers inspected in Oregon were found to be on the road when they shouldn't have been.

M.O. Stevens / Wikimedia Commons

This fall, Oregon voters will debate the future of one of the state’s most unusual tax policies. Oregon elections officials will soon announce whether an initiative to repeal the state's one-of-a-kind corporate kicker rebate has made the ballot. Backers submitted well over the number of signatures needed. But unlike one recent corporate tax measure, this initiative isn't generating much opposition yet.

Chris Lehman / Northwest News Network

Oregon's capital city is echoing with the sounds of impromptu piano concerts this week. About a dozen brightly decorated street pianos are scattered about town. It's part of a worldwide phenomenon inspired by a British artist.

Hendrike / Wikimedia Commons

Marijuana initiative activists say Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown is being too aggressive in tossing out petition signatures. One group filed a lawsuit Wednesday saying the rate of invalidated signatures will likely snuff out an initiative to decriminalize marijuana possession.

Jeffery Turner / Flickr

Oregonians facing foreclosure will soon have another tool to stay in their house. A law that takes effect Wednesday allows struggling homeowners the chance to look their lender in the eye.

A new federal waiver for Oregon includes a provision aimed at luring doctors to small towns. The state won final approval Monday from the Obama administration for plans to move ahead with big changes in health care.


A new lawsuit alleges sexual abuse by workers at Oregon's only prison for women. It's the latest in a series of lawsuits brought by female inmates at the institution in Wilsonville.

One of the surprise winners of a slot on the U.S. Olympic Track and Field team isn’t a household name, even in the town where his track career took off. Now, Ryan Bailey is headed to London to compete in the 100-meter race.

Franz Jantzen /

The U.S. Supreme Court could rule any day now on the Constitutionality of President Obama's health care overhaul. The decision could have broad implications for state health care policies in the Northwest.

Oregon State Parks

The days are numbered for the massive Japanese dock that washed up on an Oregon beach earlier this month. The Oregon State Parks Department announced Tuesday that it's accepted a bid from a Vancouver, Wash., salvage company to break apart the dock and remove it.

M.O. Stevens / Wikimedia Commons

An embattled Oregon state Representative Matt Wingard says he won't seek re-election. Two-term Republican lawmaker Matt Wingard admitted to having a sexual relationship with a college-age employee who worked at his state capitol office.

Photo by Chris Lehman / Northwest News Network

Oregon's Governor and First Lady are not married. It’s something that’s attracted little attention since Democrat John Kitzhaber took office about 18 months ago. But as his partner, Cylvia Hayes, rolls out her anti-poverty agenda, some people question whether she should have the title First Lady. Salem Correspondent Chris Lehman reports.

The White House / Northwest News Network

President Obama's announcement Friday that some young adults who came to this country illegally as children will get a reprieve from deportation has sparked strong reactions here in the Northwest.

Oregon and Washington groups opposed to illegal immigration strongly criticized the President's announcement. They said it was politically motivated. But those in the region who support an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws cheered.

Oregon Legislature / Northwest News Network

An Oregon state representative is suddenly stepping down from a leadership post. It follows allegations of an inappropriate sexual relationship between Republican Matt Wingard and a subordinate.

Wingard is quitting as Deputy Republican Leader of the Oregon House. He's fending off allegations that he used his position of power to pressure a young woman who worked in his office at the capitol into a sexual relationship. The woman also says Wingard gave her alcohol when she was still 20 years old.

Wikimedia user M.O. Stevens / Wikimedia Commons

Signature gatherers will be out in force in Oregon in the next few weeks. Groups are racing to beat a deadline early next month to submit enough names to get initiatives on the ballot this fall.

The man with a clipboard gathering names on this downtown Salem street corner offers passersby a preview of what could be on their ballot this fall:

"Do you think marijuana should be legalized, ma'am?" he asks.

In fact, pro-pot groups are on track to get not one, but two marijuana legalization measures on the Oregon ballot.

Photo by Virginia Alvino / Northwest News Network

One small-town movie theater is looking for a happy ending to what could have been a horror story earlier this year. The historic Palace Theatre in Silverton, Oregon closed its doors after an April fire. But repairs are underway at the Depression-era movie palace. Correspondent Chris Lehman reports.

Northwest News Network

Ellen Rosenblum says she's "honored" to be selected as Oregon's first female Attorney General. That was the announcement Wednesday from Governor John Kitzhaber. The news comes just as she picks up a Republican challenger in the November election.

Rosenblum is a retired state judge who had the inside track to replace Kroger by virtue of winning the Democratic nomination last month. She'll take the oath of office June 29th, the same day Kroger officially steps down to become president of Reed College in Portland. The appointment assures that she'll be Attorney General for at least six months. She could tack on another four years if she wins the general election in November. Rosenblum says she's already spoken with Kroger about making the transition as smooth as possible.

Starting Monday, Oregon voters have another party to choose from when they sign up to vote. But as Salem correspondent Chris Lehman reports, the group that formed the Americans Elect party is no longer trying to field a candidate.

Photo courtesy of OPB

Oregon's elected state schools superintendent is leaving her job. Susan Castillo announced Monday that she'll step down by the end of this month to work for an education non-profit.

Castillo is a former Democratic state lawmaker who's in her third term as Superintendent of Public Instruction. Her current term doesn't end until 2015, but she had no chance of winning re-election.

Oregon lawmakers decided last year to do away with the office of state school superintendent. They chose instead to give the governor more direct authority over schools.

Photo credit: Wonderlane/ Flickr / Northwest News Network

Elected officials in Oregon are not violating ethics rules if they shop for discounted shoes and apparel at a store meant for Nike employees. That’s the ruling Friday from Oregon Government Ethics Commission.

Nike runs a store just for employees at its Beaverton headquarters. The shop features popular Nike products at wholesale prices. Last month a lobbyist for Nike wrote the Ethics Commission to ask whether government officials would run afoul of state ethics laws if they accepted passes to visit the store.

OLCC / Oregon Liquor Control Commission

The embattled head of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission is downplaying an unusually public display of tension at the state agency he runs. Steve Pharo says the spat isn't affecting the OLCC's ability to do its job.

Governor John Kitzhaber has been pressuring Steve Pharo for months to step down as head of the agency that regulates alcohol sales in Oregon. Pharo has refused, saying he works at the pleasure of not the governor, but the five member board that oversees the OLCC.

A state panel will vote Thursday on Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s choice to oversee a dramatic shift in the way the state runs public education. The governor selected Rudy Crew after a nationwide search. Crew is the former head of public school districts in New York, Miami, Tacoma and elsewhere. The head of Oregon's largest teacher's union thinks it's a good choice.

Photo courtesy Oregon governor's office

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber's pick for the state’s new education chief is so far winning praise from school leaders. But Rudy Crew’s lengthy career includes many clashes with local school officials. Salem Correspondent Chris Lehman reports:

Kitzhaber wants Crew to be in charge of re-shaping the state's education system from pre-school through college. Crew has worked in some of the nation's largest school districts, such as New York, Miami and Tacoma. Crew says he knows he has a challenge ahead of him in Oregon.

Photo credit: Wikimedia user O'Dea / Wikimedia Commons

The state of Washington is preparing for a seismic shift this week in the way people buy liquor. A similar transition from state-controlled alcohol sales is not yet on the horizon in Oregon. But some in the industry hope that will change.

Washington voters initially rejected the idea of turning control of hard liquor sales over to the private sector. But last fall, an initiative to do just that passed by a wide margin after an expensive advertising campaign by Costco.

The retail giant isn't planning a similar ballot run in Oregon this year. Instead, grocery industry lobbyist Joe Gilliam says retailers will try their hand at convincing the Oregon legislature first. And he says the industry will simply point north for an example of what happens when lawmakers don't compromise. / Northwest News Network

Oregon needs to do a better job at making sure that low-income children are getting the mental health services they’re eligible for. That's the finding of a new audit by the Oregon Secretary of State's office.

The report applauds the Oregon Health Authority for bringing tens of thousands of additional children into the Medicaid-funded Oregon Health Plan over the past three years.

But auditors found that some groups of children were using mental health services at a disproportionately low rate. They include girls under age 13, and Hispanic youth of all ages.