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Session wrapup
Partisanship overwhelming process

Republican efforts at Legislature routinely ignored, says Sen. Doug Whitsett

Herald and News by State Senator Doug Whitsett 7/14/13

The past three years have been a tale of two legislative processes.

   After the 2010 elections, the House of Representatives was evenly split 30 Republicans 30 Democrats. The Senate was nearly even at 16 Democrats and 14 Republicans.

   For two years we worked together in near bipartisan harmony because neither party had enough votes to force an issue through the legislative process.

   Strongly liberal or strongly conservative positions were shelved. We worked toward moderate consensus. Most bills that were enacted into law had bipartisan sponsors and enjoyed bipartisan voting support. The small number of strictly Democrat or Republican sponsored bills that were enacted into law was nearly even.  

   That bipartisan brinksmanship changed after the 2012 election. The House now stands at 34 Democrats and 26 Republicans while the Senate remained unchanged at 16 Democrats and 14 Republicans.

   The recently concluded Legislative Assembly was the most partisan and rancorous that I have experienced during my nine years of service in the Oregon Senate.

   By our count, 93 percent of the 831 bills that were passed, by both legislative chambers, had Democratic chief sponsors. A significant number of the seven percent of the bills chiefly sponsored by Republicans were nonsubstantive measures such as memorials or resolutions.

   This year, many of the most extreme liberal and divisive proposals were taken off the shelf. They were introduced by Democratic senators and representatives who believe in those principles.

   Little effort was made to garner bipartisan support. Republican proposals and principles were uniformly ignored by the majority party, often without the courtesy of a public hearing.

   Most of these bills passed through the House on partyline votes. Raw political power was wielded to quash opposition. Threats of repercussion and further abusive legislation was routinely used to dissuade dissent.

   The 26 House Republicans were only able to prevent passage of bills for raising taxes. They were empowered to stop these measures because the Oregon Constitution requires a 60 percent majority vote on bills that raise revenue. They could only watch helplessly while the majority party passed myriad policy bills requiring only a simple majority vote.  

   However, the outcomes in the Oregon Senate were quite different this year.

   Our Senate Republican caucus found better cohesiveness with newly elected members. We established a list of bad bills that we could all agree to oppose. Our 14 votes were not enough to block legislation, but we only needed one more vote to reach the magic number of 15 “no” votes required to stop a bill from passing.

   I have worked across the aisle with moderate Democratic senators for the past six years in a bipartisan Senate caucus that we established in 2007. Sen. Betsy Johnson has   been one member of that coalition since its inception. This year, our many years of bipartisan trust building really came to fruition.

   The list of bills that we believed were bad policy was long. We worked hard to find that magical 15th “no” vote to prevent their passage. Our heroine became Johnson, the Democratic senator from Scappoose.

   Time after time Johnson rose to the challenge. Time after time she stood up to the pressure from her Senate Democrat Caucus and bravely voted “no.”

   More important, her courage caused any number of other bills on our “bad bill” list either to die in committee or to be amended into some form of harmless task force or study committee.  

   Oregonians, especially those in rural communities across the state, owe this courageous Oregon senator a huge debt of gratitude. Working with our 14 Senate Republican votes, she singlehandedly shut down much of the extreme environmental and labor policies that would have certainly been enacted into Oregon law.

   My hat is off to Johnson.


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