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Eye on the Legislature

Who’s running the show this time?

No more “Insider Baseball.” I’m not an insider any more, and my knees don’t allow for softball, much less baseball. But I continue to watch the Salem political game from afar; shoveling horse pucky here in the south hills of Lane County and reflecting on the days when horse pucky was my day job in the Legislature. 

I still visit Eugene occasionally just to observe its downtown’s glacial recovery toward normalcy, or to gaze at Civic Stadium dying like a nine-acre beached whale while Pat Kilkenny and the Ducks await their NCAA football fate. Or, sometimes I go to Springfield if I need to feel culturally uplifted. Coburg I only go to if I want a speeding ticket.

So I’m still keeping a close eye on the Legislature for you. The current Salem version of the Hot Air Society began in earnest on Feb. 4. Amid all the posturing over PERS and guns, I noticed my friend Brad Witt, a good labor Democrat from Clatskanie, introduced the first stunner of the session. House Bill 2783, pushed by a coalition of “nanny state” humane treatment groups, would make it a violation for a lobbyist to tether a legislator with a short leash or a choke collar or to keep a legislator tied up outside for an extended time. It would become a misdemeanor if tethering a legislator leads to injury or death. (It’s just a matter of time, folks.) 

 According to The Register-Guard, we’ve all seen them – “or at least heard them. Legislators chained up for hours outside, barking their heads off.” The bill would prohibit leaving a legislator on a tether for more than five hours a day, or 10 hours if attached to a zip line. I’ve personally seen lobbyists leave a lawmaker outside waiting, while he goes in and has a latte with the lawmaker’s opponent, and then comes back out, unchains the lawmaker, then pretend he’s his best buddy, and promises to send him a check! That’s how lobbyists are — we’ve all seen the cruelty, it’s time to curb this behavior. I’ll track this one for you. It’s a promising start, but only a start!

 This week, I’ll walk you through some of the leaders of the session, and in future columns, we’ll delve into how well this particular 77th edition of Salem’s Hot Air Society functions. 

 As you know, each Hot Air Society session has a life of its own, much of it determined by the leadership in both chambers and both parties. The guy who rents the offices in the middle of the Capitol, Gov. Kitzhaber, is the same guy I started out my political career with in 1994. His work is well known, the Oregon Health Plan and the Salmon Plan have already established his legacy. This time around he seems to really be enjoying himself. Remember, during the eight years I served with him, we never had a Democrat majority in the House or the Senate. This time, with a slim Democrat leadership in both chambers, we should all be cautiously optimistic – really we should.

Senate President Peter Courtney – the dean of the building. Been around since Christ was a corporal, longest serving Senate president in Oregon history. During my last session when we did PERS reform in 2003, he managed a 15-15 tie as Senate co-president with Republican Lenny Hannon. This time around he has a narrow 16-14 D majority, with some seats to protect in two years and some things to get done this session, especially mental health issues.

Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosembaum — strong Portland labor Democrat, started in the House in 1998; jobs and women’s issues are her forte – straight forward negotiator.

Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli I knew him when he was a Creswell Democrat back in the ’80’s. Now he’s described as an East Oregon Republican rancher with a concealed weapons permit. Whoop-de-doo! He’s already laid down the gauntlet on PERS, telling The Oregonian that Courtney has to produce 16 Democrat votes for reform or he won’t give him one vote! Wow, brinksmanship in February! He’s like Mitch McConnell with a shorter rifle (and no filibuster).

House Speaker Tina KotekI’ve only met her a few times. Val Hoyle and others speak highly of her. Fourth-term legislator. A 34-26 majority is nice, but it’s a slim majority; e.g., you need 36 votes in the House for any revenue reform. 

House Majority Leader Val Hoyle — more on her later, just take my word on this for now: Lane County is lucky to have this plucky Irish broad as one of our representatives.

House Minority Leader Mike McLane – Powell Butte Republican, the new guy, elected to the House in 2010, already their leader. By most accounts, the governor’s office at least, thinks he’s a guy who can be reasonable. That’s saying a lot when you consider the House Republican caucus he manages: everyone from Vickie Berger – a reasonable moderate – to Dennis Richardson – famously, immoderately, not reasonable. 

 Tea bags will be flying. One of my (few) friends sent me a bumper sticker response to Richardson’s recent proposal that we arm our teachers in the aftermath of Newtown: “A teacher in every gun shop!” Yay! Verily! Talk to you soon.