Polarization at the Oregon Legislature

The 2012 Pew Research Center poll showing the largest gap in values between Republicans and Democrats in 25 years (from 10% in 1987 to 18%) revealed not only how Americans’ values and beliefs are more polarized, but also suggested the entrenched resistance to accommodating differences between parties.

In Oregon, legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle suggest more collaboration.

During 2011 and 2012, Oregon’s legislature was split 30-30 in the House, with only a slight Democratic majority in the Senate. This nearly even split lead to historically high levels of legislative productivity in a short session. The Democratic governor won approval of major re-structuring proposals for health care and education.

Regarding re-districting, Oregon legislators in 2011 completed the process successfully and efficiently, while the issue continues to be controversial in other states where the party in control has redrawn boundaries as they wished.

Governor John Kitzhaber, in his 2013 State of the State address to the opening legislative session suggested that cooperation, not rugged individualism, could help Oregon achieve its best outcomes.

At that same address, Tina Kotek, 2013 Speaker of the House, (D – N/NE Portland) reminded the audience that balancing legislators’ commitment is important in order to keep the trust of the voters, because the public’s faith in elected leaders and government is strained.

House Republican leader Rep. Mike McLane (R – Powell Butte) has voiced similar sentiments, stating that if legislators go into session with an ‘us-versus-them’ mentality, it just doesn’t accomplish much.

On Wednesday, March 20, at 7:00 p.m. at Loucks Auditorium of the Salem Public Library, the matter will receive more attention as Kotek and McLane discuss opportunities and challenges to achieve legislative collaboration for Oregon. The event is sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Marion & Polk Counties and the Salem City Club.

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