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.

Ways To Connect

The makers of the new action flick "47 Ronin" didn't want to film their movie in Oregon. But that doesn't mean the state won't have a starring role. Oregon has a connection to a big-budget movie that hits theaters this week.

Jae C. Hong / Associated Press

Unemployment benefits are about to run out for tens of thousands of Northwesterners. Without a Congressional extension, payments will stop later this month to people who've been without a job for more than six months.

The holiday season will mean an end to unemployment checks for about 1.3 million Americans, including about 45,000 jobless in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. State benefits are still intact, but those last no more than six months. These cuts affect people who, in some cases, have been looking for work for more than a year.

javacolleen / Flickr

The improving employment picture in the Northwest isn't good news if you teach at a community college. Enrollment is dropping as more people head back to work. And that means there are fewer classes to teach.

Frank Goulard has taught math at Portland Community College for more than 30 years, so he knew what would happen when the economy started to tank five years ago.

Bill Wagner / Washington State University

One out of every five cranberries grown in the U.S. is eaten Thanksgiving week, according to industry giant Ocean Spray. Here in the Northwest, some cranberry farmers hope to convince Americans to eat more berries year-round.

You probably aren't a real cranberry farmer unless you eat a fair share yourself.

"We make them into our own sauce. We use them in salads, cranberry bread. We eat a lot of cranberries,” said Scott McKenzie, who has been harvesting the berries for nearly 20 years on his coastal farm near Port Orford, Oregon.

Chris Lehman

Every morning, Jim Larson takes a walk around town. Down to the railroad tracks. Up the hill behind City Hall. There's hardly a sound.

The silence is not unusual for a weekday morning in Larson’s small town of Prescott, Oregon. There’s not even a morning rush hour.  

“No, because there isn't that many people even that work anymore, either,” Larson said. “Everybody up this hill that I live on, from my house up. Nobody works here; they're all retired."

Chris Lehman

Editor's Note: Drug traffickers are doing big business up and down the West Coast. When you go by freeway, you’re driving a Silk Road of sorts for heroin, meth, and cocaine. This export industry is evolving. Drug experts say heroin is back on the rise, fueled in part by prescription drug abuse.

This week, in a series we call Border to Border Drugs, we’re reporting on drug-trafficking rings that rely on every freeway in the West. In part two of the series, correspondent Chris Lehman reports on how the supply side of this business may change, but the demand remains strong.


Heavy-duty prescription painkillers have something in common with heroin. They're both opiates, and the effect they have on people who get hooked is similar. One difference? Heroin is usually cheaper and easier to get. That was true for Portlander Kevin Lehl. He says he got hooked as a teen when he was prescribed opiates to treat chronic pain.

"I was in love with it from the very beginning,” Lehl said.

Chris Lehman

There’s an unusual sporting event at the Oregon State Fair that involves athletes that could end up on your dinner table.

With just moments left until the “Cow Olympics,” the cattle were clearly restless. Before them was a six-part obstacle course.

Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

County officials who issue marriage licenses in Washington state are gearing up for a possible influx of new applicants following the Internal Revenue Services’ ruling that states gay marriage will be recognized across state lines for federal tax purposes.

With wildfires still raging across the Northwest, fire managers are turning to private firefighting crews in increasing numbers. One private industry group says contractors are responsible for a surprising 40 percent of firefighters on the ground in the region.

Both the U.S. Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Forestry said that figure sounds about right. But the shift didn't happen overnight; the Oregon Department of Forestry's Rod Nichols says the change started in the 80s.

The state of Oregon will look into whether a bakery discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to make a cake for their wedding ceremony.

On Wednesday, the Bureau of Labor and Industries announced the investigation, which comes in response to a complaint filed by two women who say a Gresham bakery cited religious reasons for turning them down.

The mayor of Silverton, Oregon is one of a kind. Stu Rasmussen is the nation's only transgendered mayor. It’s a distinction that generated international headlines and even a protest by the anti-gay group, Westboro Baptist Church. Now, Rasmussen's saga has a new twist: A musical about his life. It’s hitting the stage in Seattle this summer.

In a small rehearsal room in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood, long-time actor Mark Anders is preparing for a role like none he's had before.

SALEM, Ore. – The top state prosecutors in Oregon and Washington have filed briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage. The high court is expected to take up the cases later this month.

The first case involves an effort to strike down California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage. The second case involves efforts to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

SALEM, Ore. – Oregon voters could decide next year whether to legally recognize same-sex marriages. Supporters of gay marriage submitted an initiative Monday aimed at putting such a question on the Oregon ballot in November of 2014.

Nine states including Washington issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But Oregon can't, since voters defined marriage as between one man and one woman nearly a decade ago. It would take a statewide vote to reverse that. So the gay rights group Basic Rights Oregon filed an initiative to overturn that Constitutional ban.

SALEM, Ore. – The state of Oregon is at odds with the federal government over how to use money from Japan meant for cleaning up tsunami debris. It can’t be used to reimburse the state for money it’s already spent.

The Japanese government donated $5 million to the US this fall to help pay for the cost of cleaning up debris from last year’s deadly tsunami. But Oregon hasn't seen a penny of that money so far.

SALEM, Ore. - Oregon lawmakers will convene in Special Session this Friday.  Governor John Kitzhaber announced Monday that the session is urgently needed to facilitate a major expansion of Oregon-based Nike.  Nike says it is on the verge of an expansion of its Oregon operations that could affect the Northwest economy.

PORTLAND – Two people, plus the suspected shooter, are dead after police say a gunman opened fire at a crowded shopping mall in suburban Portland Tuesday. An ambulance took one survivor of the attack to OHSU Medical Center in Portland. The young woman is expected to survive.

Feds silent so far on marijuana ballot measures

Oct 15, 2012
Virginia Alvino / N3

Two years ago, US Attorney General Eric Holder opposed a California initiative to legalize marijuana. But this year, the Justice Department has been silent on similar measures before voters in Washington, Oregon and Colorado. Monday, a group of former federal drug officials urged the Obama administration to weigh in.

Former Drug Enforcement Administration chief Peter Bensinger says if voters approve the marijuana legalization measures, they’ll put their residents at odds with federal drug laws.

The mural in downtown Corvallis, Ore., is big: 10 feet high and 100 feet long. One side shows a peaceful countryside setting in rural Taiwan. The other shows police beating protesters in Tibet and a Buddhist monk setting himself ablaze in protest.

SALEM, Ore. - A candidate for Oregon state Attorney General faces an unusual new opposition campaign. Democrat Dwight Holton has become the target of medical marijuana activists. Holton faces retired judge Ellen Rosenblum in the May Democratic primary.

Medical marijuana groups say Holton cracked down on marijuana growers and distributors during his time as a federal prosecutor. He served Oregon’s U.S. attorney for two years.

The Associated Press

A group that opposes same-sex marriage is taking its boycott of Starbucks to the other side of the world.

Cliff Mass

Spring arrives next week, but this week still looks like winter in Washington.

The National Weather Service says a front moving through the state Monday is bringing strong winds and rain to Western Washington, heavy snow to the Cascades and snow in much of north central and northeast Washington.

High winds knocked out power for tens of thousands of people in northwest Oregon and western Washington on Monday.

Tuesday's ruling overturning California’s ban on same-sex marriage is not expected to affect similar laws in other states. Oregon and Idaho also have voter-approved amendments against gay marriage.

But Washington lawmakers are poised to send Governor Chris Gregoire a measure allowing gays and lesbians to marry.

TIGARD, Ore. – Oregon lawmakers will consider a plan next month to consolidate the ways the state distributes its economic development dollars. Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler outlined Monday what he’s calling the "Oregon Investment Act."

The problem, says Ted Wheeler, isn't a lack of money.

Ted Wheeler: "There are in fact significant dollars allocated by the legislature towards economic development. But they're highly fragmented across different agencies. Not only are they fragmented and siloed, but they're inflexible."

Oregon's timber dependent counties are still hoping for a federal rescue. But they're creating contingency plans in case Congress doesn't come through with a replacement for historic timber revenue.

Officials from eight counties met with Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber Monday to discuss their options. Some counties say they could become insolvent in the next year without additional funding.

SALEM, Ore. - Local governments in Oregon's Willamette Valley have made various attempts at regional collaboration in the past few decades. Now, a group is trying to create a more formal relationship. City and county officials meet in Salem Monday to discuss a possible compact to band together on key issues.

The Willamette Valley stretches from Portland south to Eugene. It includes the state capitol and is known for its diverse agriculture. Some two-thirds of Oregon's population lives in the valley.

SALEM, Ore. - Oregon vote-by-mail system will be affected by plans to cut next-day delivery of first class mail. The US Postal Service announced that change in service Monday.

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown says once the new delivery standard takes effect, voters should mail their ballots by the Thursday prior to a Tuesday election, just to be safe.

But Brown says she still wants voters to have enough time to make up their minds. So she says she'll ask lawmakers to approve an earlier date for county elections offices to mail out ballots.

Chris Lehman / Northwest News Network

SALEM, Ore. – The first inmate to be executed in Oregon since 1997 will have his hands wrapped in gauze to prevent any final obscene gestures. That's one detail that emerged Friday during a media tour of the state's execution chamber.

Michael Clapp / Northwest News Network

The research is clear that the key to keeping a mentally ill teen in treatment and out of trouble is early intervention. Yet, most counties in the Northwest do not offer comprehensive treatment to kids in the initial stages of a mental breakdown.

Keep an eye out for trick-or-treaters as you head out on the roads this evening Despite the down economy, retailers expect Halloween spending will rise this year.

The National Retail Federation's annual Halloween spending survey found that the average person plans to spend about $72 on costumes, candy and decorations. That's a jump of more than $15 over the past two years.

Chris Lehman / KPLU

SALEM, Ore. - The Oregon Land Board gave the go-ahead Tuesday to a plan that will dramatically ramp up logging in a state forest in the Oregon Coast Range. The action came amid protests.

Environmental groups bused in protesters from Portland and Eugene. Long-time activist Tre Arrow led the group in a sing-along outside the Land Board headquarters.

Tre Arrow: "The time is now for the people to rise up."