Legislature: Find the middle ground

Time will tell if all the talk of bipartisan cooperation translates into real action

Democrats regained control of the Oregon House in the Nov. 6 election, picking up four seats to end the 30-30 split that has prevailed since 2010. When the Legislature convenes in January, the Democrats will control both houses and the governor's office.

The temptation will be strong to freeze out the Republicans and do whatever the majority party wants to do. Party leaders should resist that urge.

Republicans should be prepared to meet the new majority halfway, standing up for their principles but giving enough ground to reach agreement on taxes and spending.

The unprecedented power-sharing arrangement necessitated by the even split after the 2010 election forced lawmakers with widely divergent views to work together to accomplish anything at all. In the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee, the House was represented by co-Chairmen Peter Buckley of Ashland and Dennis Richardson of Central Point. It's hard to imagine two legislators less likely to reach agreement, but they did.

Together with Senate co-Chairman Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, Buckley, a liberal Democrat, and Richardson, a conservative Republican, crafted a budget deal that made painful but necessary spending reductions and held enough money in reserve to cover another shortfall if the economy worsened. It did, and the reserves meant lawmakers could fill the gap without further painful cuts.

Lawmakers won't know what the new revenue forecast looks like until after the session begins, but it's a safe bet the state won't be rolling in money. Even if the forecast calls for growth, it's likely to be slow.

The usual interest groups — schools, colleges, state police and human services — will be clamoring for relief from the budget cuts they've endured since the economy turned sour, and it's hard to blame them. Democrats will feel considerable pressure to restore funding to their favorite programs, but they won't be able to satisfy everyone.

Richardson and Buckley are likely to remain on Ways and Means, with Buckley as chairman. They should build on their collaboration in the 2011 budget session.

Another lawmaker representing Southern Oregon, Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, will play a pivotal role in the 2013 session, as well. McLane, whose sprawling 55th District stretches from the northern edge of Medford to north of Prineville, has been elected House minority leader.

McLane vows to work "very cooperatively" with majority Democrats while advocating for job creation and reforming the public employee pension system.

For now, both sides are making all the right noises. The proof will be a balanced budget by June with a minimum of political bloodshed.

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