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Posts published in “Day: January 10, 2011”

Stability and predictability

Butch Otter

Consider this sentence from the middle of Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter's just-concluded state of the state speech:

"Along with responsibly balancing our budget, there is no task before us more important than improving Idaho’s economy. That does not mean government spending. It means stability. It means predictability."

In the governor himself, not least. If in 1980 you'd offered the prediction of Otter, then as now a small-L libertarian, as governor in 2010, and asked what his state of the state speech might be like ... the prediction probably wouldn't have missed the reality by a lot.

So, lots of talk about no tax increases (keeping money in the pockets of the people), about government austerity, about the evils that the east-coast Washington is raining down on, among other places, common-sense Idaho. Fed-bashing was at least as large a part of this speech as any of Otter's other state of the states.

The speech, which was a budget speech as well as state of the state (though lighter on the budget material than some of its predecessors have been), was studded through with various ideas for change and even innovation. But they felt like necessary add ons; the larger point seemed to be (and was expressed by Otter) as a desire to drive on steadily, with the largest changes being just how much acceleration to put in. That, he suggested, is what the voters of Idaho endorsed in November.

Higher education (a central engine in economic development) was one example. Here's Otter on colleges an universities, an area already severely slashed in recent years: (more…)

Outside the box

John Kitzhaber

New Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber's speech was an inaugural, not a state of the state, so logically shorter, with fewer specifics and a larger view.

But it was his first major address on returning to the office, and delivered to the legislature - and it may be very consequential. Most of what was in it had been basic speech material during the campaign, but this context made it different.

He started it with a cute line - "So I guess none of you could get tickets to the game either" - but the rest was actually thought-provoking. If he succeeds, he will be pressing for a different way of approaching state budgeting and lawmaking.

The traditional way, he pointed out, is by addressing budget and taxes. He urged a change of focus - a focus on where Oregon should be, and turn mapping out routes to get there, changing the structure and funding wherever need be.

His central point along these lines was drawing a distinction between two major ways government money is spent, for "investment in people" (helping with education, health and so on) as opposed to solving problems (corrections and other parts of health, for example). The problems need solution, he said, but the state should be oriented to putting investment in the front end so that the problem side can be scaled back.

How you do this in a time of extreme budget trouble - which he also acknowledged - will make for an interesting puzzle. But Kitzhaber set up an unusual shift of framework here, something that has the real potential to alter the way the legislature deals with resetting state government. It's not over long, and worth reading in full.

A House organized

Still plenty to do. But in listening this morning to the organizing of the Oregon House, you can pick up a reasonable sense of optimism.

The Oregon House is evenly divided, 30-30, between the parties, which can be a prescription for chaos. Since the general election when that result became clear, news has come slowly about how the parties plan to share the running of the chamber.

On this first day, at least, the indicators are positive. Cheerful words were said about both incomking co-speakers, Democrat Arnie Roblan and Republican Bruce Hanna. Not a note of discord anywhere. The votes for those two, and other officials elected by the chamber (through to the House clerk), went without a hitch, a negative vote or an objection. The sense was of actual cooperation. At least for now.

A difficult political marriage

Barrett Rainey

A commentary by Barrett Rainey, who blogs at Ridenbaugh Press. He lives at Roseburg.

While legislatures in all states have their hands full this season wrestling with historic deficit problems and barrels of red ink, one of those anguished groups is going to be especially fun to watch: our boys and girls in Oregon’s House of Representatives.

That’s because voters sent 60 of them to Salem: 30 in each political party. Split right down the middle. If you just look at those numbers, you’d be tempted to say it will be a mess with little accomplished. And you might be right. But hearing Co-Speaker-in-Waiting Bruce Hanna (R-Roseburg) talk about preliminary work done so far, maybe not.

On most days, Hanna is upbeat. When he talks about organizational work already done for this historic situation, you get the feeling leadership in the House is going to give it its best shot. But there’s a lot of devil-in-the-details.

The plan is for Hanna and Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay) to be co-speakers, each operating out of separate party offices, sharing or duplicating such staff as necessary. All committee membership is to be evenly divided; chairmanships, too. The idea is to have mirror images of everything political. Oregon has no House precedent for this; most states don’t. So Hanna and Roblan have been researching, looking for ideas coast-to-coast.

As Hanna tells it, he and Roblan share a professional respect for each other, feeling their past relationship has shown they can work together on most things. But there’ll be some issues that will be truly partisan. Those will be the ones that test the power sharing and hand-holding.

While talk now is very positive from both men, there will be two major tests of this political bonding. One will be how to deal with a near-record shortfall in the coming budget. Typical Republican approach is to lower taxes and cut back spending. Democrats usually are open to maintaining or even small tax increases and will go further to fund what they believe are primary state responsibilities i.e. health care, education, social services, etc.

Hanna and Roblan have some years of legislative experience to help them deal with budgetary matters. Both seem open to hearing all ideas before trying to come up with a spending plan. Even from the new Governor who, thus far, has been supportive. And helpful. Maybe they can pull it off.

But it’s the second test that’ll pose the most problems: the bomb throwers. That’s my term, not theirs. These are the diehards and ideologues that sponsor futile bills on abortion, states rights, limiting federal interference and, this year, probably immigration. These folks show up every session like tulips in the Spring. Many believe “they are on a mission from God” and dissuading them from pursuing that “mission” is next to impossible.

How Hanna and Roblan keep the whip hand on those loose cannons will be the real test of bipartisanship. If one “cannon” … just one … refuses to cooperate with the joint cooperative efforts of leadership and starts a fracas, the whole House could come to a halt. Neither Speaker wants that, nor do most members who are going to Salem to give it their best shot in a very troubled year.

But ideologues and compromise are oil and water. You might tame a few. But if others are hellbent on making a show for the folks at home … and that seems to be the case from Congress on down this year … if that’s their attitude, Hanna and Roblan will be juggling hand grenades.

I wish them well in their task. And I’m thankful leadership of what will be a very troubled session is in their seemingly capable hands. The new Governor seems to have the same feelings and he has some years of experience to help along the way. So far, he’s on the “team.”

Yep, it’s gonna be interesting to watch. Elephants and donkeys pushing a single peanut up a very steep hill. I hope they pull it off.

The schedule today

Lots of political launches and ceremonies in the Northwest - legislative, inaugural and such - in the next couple of days. Our cheat sheet for the moment:

7 am Oregon House opening receptions

8 am Oregon House convenes

9:30 Oregon Senate convenes

10:45 Oregon Joint session for Governor's Inaugural address

11 am Idaho legislature convenes

12 noon - Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter state of state

12 noon - Washington Senate opening ceremonies

1:30 Washington House committees begin work

6:30 Washington legislative review on TVW


12 Washington Governor Chris Gregoire state of the state, Republican response (see on TVW)