The Demise of the Oregon Legislature
In 2004 when my husband was appointed to the Oregon Senate and for approximately the next two terms in the House of Representatives we would often be invited to two receptions and a dinner on any given evening. I used to tease my mother about the fact that all she had taught me was being put to excellent use. Being courteous and gracious, knowing why there was so much silverware at dinner, how to make an entrance and a proper exit from any given room.
Yes all sponsored by the Lobby but these events presented a time to meet the Legislators from the other side of the aisle. A time to get acquainted without the pressure of a bill or a committee hanging over your head. You could find out they had children the same age as you, or perhaps your wives or husbands were born in the same town or the same state. Fly fishing is your hobby and that of the Legislator from the other side of the state – these events provided an opportunity to put a name and a face and some common ground between you and the Legislator from across the aisle.
And then came one rule change from the party in charge. Former Representative Dave Hunt and former Representative Mary Nolan made the decision that lobbyists had too much control or too much camaraderie was going on at these events. I don’t know if anyone every knew why the Democrat leadership decided that this new rule was necessary – but I believe – and I watched – this new rule change the atmosphere, the working conditions, the interactions between Legislators. It even eventually changed the professionalism, the respect for fellow Legislators and respect for the Institution itself.
The new rule: Lobbyists could spend just $50.00 per year on any given Legislator. Now many may say – so what? Why does that matter? Surely it meant no individual was getting paid off for their vote or taking advantage of a lobbyist or ….the list goes on. Here began the demise of the Oregon Legislature.
Those first three terms Sal was in the Legislature we met and befriended individuals from all over the state. The friendships didn’t change Sal’s efforts to work for his district and represent his constituents. But one thing knowing your counterparts did do for almost everyone is established respect and an understanding as to where they were coming from. Why perhaps a particular issue was so very concerning to them. And they understood why your knowledge of situations and needs from the far corner of Oregon were so important to you.
Over the years we noticed and often commented that the lack of knowing the other Legislators on a more personal basis began to whittle away at an understanding of issues – a comprehension of why a particular bill was so important to your co-worker. The groundwork had been laid for separating and dividing; for what would become arrogance and disdain for others.
By the seventh term in the Legislature many of us were commenting on the fact that now – at several main events being sponsored by the lobbyists – the Democrats are not even showing up. It was almost like they had been told not to go to these events. Very few would show up at an event that used to fill the convention center rooms. You never saw the leadership at these events. There were simply no opportunities to make connections or share any ideas or concepts with individuals from across the aisle.
Every year the Democrats gained more seats in the House, more control over the events at the Capitol, more control over the committees, the discussions, the bills that came to the floor, the worse the atmosphere became. The respect for the Institution – the House itself, began to falter. The dress code that had been held so firm by the House Clerk was disappearing. Representatives were showing up in tie-dyed T-shirts, shorts, jeans – not ties or suits which had always been the mark of professionalism. Statesmanship dwindled and respect diminished.
The Democratic leadership holds all the strings to this demise. Their arrogance and disregard for others has encouraged and heightened the destruction of the Legislature. Keeping people distanced from one another, pulling your own representatives from committees when they wouldn’t vote your way, discouraging attendance at events where people could mingle – all this and more led to this demise.
By the last session Sal served in we noted that there were several new Democrat Legislators who we were never even introduced to. That’s right – not even an introduction. The new Legislators themselves arrived with an air about them that basically said “I don’t need to know who you are – you are the enemy – that’s all the knowledge I need.”
The continuation of this type of attitude, the arrogance that came with it, and the overall lack of respect for fellow Legislators has led to where Oregon is today. Breaking pledges from the Governor on down to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate has led to complete lack of trust between the two parties. Perhaps the Senate being gone until the first of July will not only be a reset for all the bills left hanging in the halls, but an opportunity for majority leadership to visit the past and take a good solid look at how just one rule change was the beginning of the demise they find themselves in today.
I know that this one rule by no means was the only issue but the difference it made over time has been very destructive. So when we have Legislators who are determined to make huge changes that will truly affect Oregon’s economy, future, jobs, education – its time for our elected officials who are in control to think about what they are doing and who they are truly representing.