Our view: Political pessimism at odds with Oregon's current reality
While it's far too soon to declare that the era of bickering government is over in Oregon, there are signs that lawmakers could leave town March 7 without the fresh battle scars that marked recent adjournments in Salem.
A lot can change between the day these words were posted online and appear in print. Still, as we embarked on the penultimate week of the 2022 legislative session, there were reasons to hope those who govern in this state were providing the kind of leadership that Oregonians want — but, sadly, no longer expect.
As Peter Wong reported for The Oregon Capital Bureau, two-thirds of Oregonians polled in January assumed their elected representatives would fail to deliver any meaningful legislation to address the key problems facing this state. That chilling statistic, provided by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, is a sharp drop from a decade ago when most Oregonians assumed that the folks in Salem were up to the task of addressing a set of challenges that, in some ways, were even more daunting than those which confronted lawmakers this year.
Longtime political observer Richard Clucas explained the apparent paradox as a reflection of the fact that, after a decade of discord and three years of a pandemic, people are generally grumpy as they look at rising gas prices, social unrest and a Congress that struggles to find bipartisan support to investigate an attempted overthrow of the government.
And our industry doesn't always help. The media focus on conflict more than collaboration. As state Sen. James Manning noted, most legislation in Salem has bipartisan support. A walkout by Republicans will get press coverage every time. A bill that passes unanimously, without discussion, often will go unreported.
And it's not as if this session has been free from political gamesmanship. Republicans, who control neither chamber nor any statewide office, again flexed their parliamentary muscle by requiring that all legislation be read in its entirety before final passage. Democrats, meanwhile, have promoted a bill to require overtime pay for farmworkers, even though Republican leadership had earlier called that bill a line in the sand for them.
It was telling that when the majority party offered to set aside $100 million for GOP projects in rural districts, some Republicans were initially wary, wondering if new House Speaker Dan Rayfield was laying some sort of political trap.
That mistrust and reluctance to seek common ground also is at odds with what people want. The Oregon Values and Belief Center's January survey also showed that Oregonians are twice as likely to prioritize political comprise than "sticking to one's beliefs, even if little gets done." This desire to put policies with broad support over politics that serve on party holds true regardless of where Oregonians live.
We understand that you can't remove politics from the political process. A certain amount of equine exchanging is part of the process. And, if done in good faith, it can create a win-win situation.
The economy is recovering and this short legislative session looks likely to be a productive one for both parties. The pessimism found in that survey isn't warranted, but it's real. And legislative leaders on both sides need to find a way to turn that around.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.