As Oregon Democrats sadly watch federal politics in our country slide to the right in most states with little to say — Oregon being only 1 percent of the country’s population — it will at least be fun to watch President Obama wield the veto pen as he enters his last term facing a Republican majority in both chambers of Congress. In just three weeks John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have already stumbled on abortion and immigration. Who knows what’s next, another government shutdown? Anyway, since I’m approaching 66, I feel I’m at an age where, to paraphrase Roger Daltrey and the Who from 40 years ago, I shouldn’t get fooled again. So I’m having more fun watching Oregon politics. It brings back warm memories. At home, Oregon’s a flip-flop of the national scene, and we should be proud of the fact that we’re the only state in the union to gain Democratic seats in the Oregon House and Senate and elect a Democrat governor in the last election cycle!
What a difference 20 years has made in Oregon politics. In 1995 Dr. John Kitzhaber was walking into the governor’s office for the first time after serving 20 years in the Oregon House and Senate, leaving as Senate president. I was crawling into my first term in the Oregon House. And 1995 was the first time in 40 years that both chambers of the Legislature were controlled by Republicans; in fact, in my entire 10 years in the Oregon House and Senate I never served in the majority. Is my political timing impeccable or what?
So, back in 1995 Republicans had a majority in both the House and the Senate, but the Democrats had a backstop: Kitzhaber became known as “Dr. No” in his first two terms because he issued a record number of vetoes. Imagine that, even back then, Republicans had bad public policy ideas that the conscientious governor had to veto.
Flash forward to this week, the governor has a Democratic majority in both chambers as the 78th session of the Legislative Assembly begins and he’s WHAT?! — advocating for temperance? Moderation? By Democrats?! I read it in The Register-Guard, so it must be true. Oh, dear. But I’m not too worried. As Grattan Kerans used to say, when Democrats are in control, they’ll tax anything that moves! Democrats sorta have the numbers, a 60 percent supermajority in the Senate, but, unfortunately, a 58.3333 percent majority in the House where a 60 percent supermajority is required for any revenue measures.
Fortunately, the Republicans appear clueless (go figure, Art Robinson is the chair of the Oregon Republican Party). Despite losing seats in both chambers, they re-elected the same leaders. In an obvious attempt at a Kumbaya bipartisan tribute to minority leaders Rep. Mike McLane and Sen. Ted Ferrioli, the newly elected Democrat Sen. Sara Gelser from Corvallis has proposed a bill authorizing driverless vehicles to be driven on Oregon roads. Furthermore, to protect Oregon citizens, she authorized only Ferrioli’s Senate district be used for test-driving the vehicles. She has bent over backwards to accommodate! If we’re lucky Ferrioli will invite Art Robinson, Dennis Richardson and Monica Wehby out to his district for a tea party in a driverless Hummer! They’ve got a lot of time on their hands these days.
Anyway, Senate Republican leader Tim Knoop is blaming the Democrats for a “Portland agenda.” But Republicans should keep their eyes on the Lane County delegation; we could steal the rest of the state blind! With Val Hoyle as House Majority Leader, Phil Barnhart chairing the House Revenue Committee, Nancy Nathanson co-vice chairing the Joint Ways and Means Committee, Paul Holvey chairing House Business and Labor, Lee Beyer chairing Senate Business and Transportation, Floyd Prozanski chairing Senate Judiciary, Chris Edwards chairing Senate Environment and Natural Resources and John Lively chairing House Veterans and Emergency Preparedness — how’s that for positioning? Even Republican Cedric Hayden is a vice-chair on the House Health Care Committee for gosh sakes! How’d he sneak in?
Anyway, should be a fun session with a transportation package, education funding, minimum wage increase and recreational marijuana. We need a Joint Smoke and Mirrors Committee. Wow, man. Stay tuned!