Writings and observations

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

UPDATE: Reflecting on the difference between Congress and the Oregon Legislature – well, it’s night and day. As for the Oregon Legislature, Governor John Kitzhaber said, “This is what working government and leadership look like, with people from across the state finding balanced solutions to real problems.” Washington could learn from Salem. …

Only a couple of days ago, this Oregon near-miracle was widely described as falling apart: A grand bargain including ideas (tax law changes) Democrats wanted, others (PERS adjustments substantially beyond last session’s) sought by Republicans, and other pieces not terribly popular anywhere. Pieces in all, though, much sought after by many.

It was the great white whale of the regular legislation session this year. For months, legislative leaders met with Governor John Kitzhaber, who had proposed something resembling (though not exactly the same as) this in his state of the state address, and it was a revolving exercise in frustration. Repeatedly, the details of a deal that would collect enough votes in both chamber seemed to be just about there; just as repeatedly, it kept falling short.

Kitzhaber did not give up, however, and took his case for a grand bargain on state finances around the state, and into ongoing legislative negotiations. Calling the session was no done deal, and even after it was called reports kept leaking out that it might fall short enough votes, Last weekend, after initial hearings on the pieces (on “legislative concepts”) things seemed about to fall apart again.

That they did not this time is remarkable, and it may have some significant political effects down the road.

One involves Kitzhaber, who was the favorite for a fourth term – if he wants it – from the beginning. But success on this special session was thought likely to be a nudge toward another term, and could make him all but impregnable. This PERS/tax deal is – recognizing that the work on taxes and retirement isn’t done yet – something sought after for more than a decade, and many people had wondered if it was even possible. Turns out it is. Kitzhaber’s third term has been an astonishingly productive gubernatorial term, and the reality of that should not be a hard sell.

Linked to that are two other elements: The removal from the table, as hot political issues, two matters which looked to be big deals on the legislative stump.

Those are the PERS structuring and tax increases that afford more money to the public schools. Republicans were set to go to war on the first, and Democrats on the second. This special session does not remove those topics from discussion, but it takes the heat, and the air, out of them. PERS now has been substantially revised, not as much as many Republicans would like but probably to a point most Oregonians overall would find reasonable. Similarly, attempts to raise taxes on the Democratic side should at least be paused; the largest needs (if not, to be sure, all of them) now are addressed.

Oregon is a politically different place than it was a couple of days ago. And 2014 is likely to be different, too, as a result.

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