The new House Republican leader, Rep. Mike McLane, whose district takes in the Upper Rogue, said he realizes "we're not driving this train anymore" and that his party will fully cooperate with majority Democrats on balancing the state budget, reforming the Public Employees Retirement System and creating jobs.
McLane this month was named minority leader after only one term in the Legislature. He said party leaders are hammering out their agenda and will unveil it at a news conference in December.
House Republicans share power equally with Democrats in the current biennium, as both have 30 members, but that will change in January. Democrats picked up four seats in the November election, meaning they will choose the speaker and all committee chairs — and decide what bills get heard and voted on.
"The focus will be the budget, the long-term problems with PERS (Public Employees Retirement System) and the growth of jobs in the private sector — legislation that helps the private sector to grow the economy," said McLane, a resident of Powell Butte, north of Bend.
He said members of both parties were pleased with the bipartisan power-sharing and cooperation that went on in 2011-12 during the 30-30 split, and Republicans hope to see that continue.
"The public chose to have us in the minority and I respect the voters, though I don't agree with them because I do believe Republican House members have better ideas on how to balance the budget and handle PERS," said McLane, a Ways and Means member last session. "But we're going to work very cooperatively with the Democrats.
"Getting a balanced budget is the main issue, and we won't get a revenue forecast till after we're in session, so we don't know how much cutting we'll be doing in Ways and Means," McLane said.
Given the present flat economy, "there are going to be some tough decisions," he said, adding that his party will look to the expertise of Ways and Means veteran Rep. Dennis Richardson and what priorities are given by Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, who will likely continue his role as co-chairman of the joint House-Senate budget-writing committee.
Buckley said that in the last session, power-sharing with Republicans was "very successful and we agreed on 95 percent of issues, so we hope it will be strongly bipartisan most of the time, with our big issues being health care reform and investment in education."
"The parties agree on the goals for education and there are no controversial bills coming from my direction," Buckley said.
Goals of House Republicans on PERS reform will be "more aggressive" than Democrats, he said. The same can be said of Democrats about infrastructure and higher education, he said.
Buckley worked with McLane on Ways and Means and said McLane's election as minority leader after only one term indicates "the caucus has a lot of confidence and respect in him."
McLane's subcommittees on Ways and Means were Natural Resources and Transportation and Economic Development.
In McLane's news release, Deputy Republican Leader Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, said Oregon led the nation in new jobless claims in a recent week, so the Legislature "will need to pass measures that will help fix our broken economy. We will, once again, offer an agenda focused on creating jobs, in addition to improving our schools and holding state government accountable."
Accountability, notes Buckley, means review and oversight by both parties in Ways and Means, "so that every dollar spent has the greatest effect possible."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.