We’ve seen it in many forms at the state and national level over the past several years: Partisans in the state House and Senate, and those in the U.S. House and Senate, driven to distraction over their ideological differences. In Oregon it has gotten so dysfunctional that a Democratic supermajority has caused Oregon Republicans on occasion to throw up their hands and escape to Idaho to avoid casting votes in Salem. The partisanship has devolved to a level where a good portion of residents in eastern parts of the state have quite literally voted in favor of “escaping to Idaho” for good, through an effort to cede parts of Oregon into Idaho. Not a small number of moderates and those in favor of spirited and productive debate have wondered over the past several years, ‘where does it all end?’ How do we got out of this catatonic mode and into one where we can accept each other’s differences and still move forward on funding important work?
The current contingent in the Oregon Legislative Assembly appears resolved to end it with a check containing lots of zeroes. This week, Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) and new House Speaker Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) (who replaced Democrat Tina Kotek after she stepped down during her bid for governor) have let Republican legislative leaders know that Democrats plan to write what amounts to a blank check to the GOP to do with what they will. The money—some $100 million—comes from the $2.5 billion in unplanned revenue the state brought in last year. Democrats want to spend a good portion of it on priorities including housing, climate change, job training and mental health, OPB reported, but that windfall also means there’s room in the budget to offer an olive branch to a GOP caucus with minority status and lack of political muscle.
“It’s a good day when Republicans and Democrats can come together for the good of all Oregonians,” said Central Oregon’s own Senator and Minority Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend). “This money will help move forward important public projects throughout Oregon.”
Knopp and other members of his caucus have reportedly drawn up a wish list of projects to spend the money on. We’re still awaiting word what those are for the local area—but undoubtedly there are projects that, in a region with so much growth, could use some more oomph in the funding department. More rural parts of the state—largely represented by Republican lawmakers—surely also have projects that could use some more cash, and that have been sorely neglected in the more partisan portioning of funding.
Looking at it through the most optimistic lens, we could say that this is a good first step in seeing the toxic partisanship in our state house begin to go away. Rayfield, the new House Speaker, does appear to want to work across the aisle with more goodwill than we have seen in the recent past. And yet, it’s not overly cynical to also note that it’s going to take more than a blank check to Republicans to smooth things over and to get us on a more productive path. Will the money help? Certainly. Will it solve everything? Probably not.
But if we here in Oregon can roll this big stone of hyper-partisanship up the hill and see it tumble down the other side, then perhaps we achieve another goal, too: Perhaps, Oregon’s ability to overcome its differences could inspire the U.S. Congress to do the same. Go, team Rayfield.