Think back to last year. It was nearly inconceivable that the Democrats were going to take control of the Legislature in 2006. After all, Democrats hadn't won a single legislative seat in a non-presidential election since 1982 - and we hadn't won four seats in any one election since 1974. It was next-to-impossible that the Democrats would take control in 2006. And yet, they did.
I don't bring this up to relive the victory. Rather, it's important to remember that the "tough work" of legislation often happens between legislative sessions; when task forces meet, coalitions are built, research is done, and competing interests bargain.
Frankly, when you're in the minority, you just focus on stopping the really bad stuff - not moving the progressive stuff. Prior to the 2007 session, not many Democrats were planning on moving much of an ambitious agenda.
But, holy cow, did this Legislature accomplish a lot. To be sure, there's much left to be done - health care, tax reform, continued investments in K-12 and higher ed - but take a look at what they did accomplish.
In no particular order (and I'm sure I missed a few things):
- Established a rainy day fund for the state budget
- Expansion of the Oregon Bottle Bill to include water bottles (~125 million/year)
- A 36% cap on predatory payday loans (down from 528% average)
- Guaranteed coverage for contraceptives in health insurance
- Guaranteed sexual assault victims access to emergency contraceptives
- Domestic partnerships for gays & lesbians
- Employment non-discrimination for sexual orientation
- Free speech and free press rights for student media
- A 22% increase in university budgets
- A $6.245 billion K-12 education budget, an 18% increase
- 3200 more children in Head Start
- Majority signup for unions ("card check")
- 25% renewable energy standard by 2025
- A biofuels incentive package
- Sent the voters a cigarette tax to fund health care for all kids
- Expanded the prescription drug purchasing pool
- Started the ball rolling toward universal health care in 2009
- Sent the voters a fix for Measure 37 that protects housing rights while stopping Wal-Mart
- An extensive identity theft protection law
- 100 new state troopers; 15 new forensic scientists
- The internet predator act
- An e-waste recycling program
- A 17% pay raise for Oregon's judges (who were lowest-paid in the nation)
- Restored the "Rule of 31" to the Oregon House; encouraging bipartisan cooperation
- Referred to voters a repeal of the "double majority" rule
- A wide-ranging and strict ethics package for all public officials
- Reform of the initiative process that boosts grassroots organizing, while regulating mercenaries
So much of this stuff seems like common sense, and yet so much of it was blocked by Karen Minnis, Wayne Scott, and the GOP House leadership over the last sixteen years (including stuff you'd think they'd support, like the 100 new troopers.)
Led by Speaker Jeff Merkley, President Peter Courtney, and Majority Leaders Dave Hunt and Kate Brown - not to mention a rejuvenated Governor Ted Kulongoski - the Oregon Democrats pulled together an extraordinary session.
And they did it all while ending the session earlier than any time since 1995.
Elections matter. You bet they do.
Let's defend and build the majority in 2008.
I can't wait for 2009.