Writings and observations

A difficult political marriage

Rainey
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.

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