A tip of the legislative hat

Chris Bouneff

I was sitting with college friends at one of the various identical McMenamins, and we were complaining about the dry corporate hamburgers and paltry serving of lukewarm fries. We're all old enough to remember the earlier days together, when the burgers were decent and the fries greasy and plentiful. Perfect college fare.

And, yes, like most people approaching or in middle age, we had a longing for the good old days. Just as quickly, however, we admitted that over time, things change. In this case, we speculated that corporate growth changed the product we once loved. That's just life, and there's no going back.

That conversation and conclusion struck me again recently as I tried, without total success, to avoid the campaign season that has commenced. This candidate said that. That candidate didn't denounce this. This website is a mouthpiece. That blogger is biased. Really, what passes as media coverage and public discourse is a bunch of baloney. And it's such trite crap that has alienated so many people who otherwise might have interest in the political process.

I reminded myself that's just the way it is. Media saturation, greater opportunity to opine without facts, greater pressure to publish information more rapidly even if it is vacuous or incompletely reported. And that's when I remembered a great silence recently. One that demonstrated that maybe you can't go back, but you can get someplace similar.

There was a wonderful silence in our state that lasted from January through June when the 2011 Legislature was in session. We had a divided Legislature that could have raised hyperbole to new levels. Yet, the session seemed tame. I'd even say that the banal political rhetoric that usually attends a legislative session was actually absent. I don't recall reading or hearing one quote in which some party mouthpiece parroted lines about those "tax-and-spend Democrats" or those "heartless, corporate-shill Republicans." It may have happened, but not frequently enough that I stumbled across an example that stuck with me.

That silence was golden. Rather than canned quotes, what I recall are statements that you want your leaders to make. The work was difficult, being divided didn't make it easier, but they were committed. Their comments weren't very enlightening, but what could they say? I'm sure they had their disagreements, but they weren't aired with the same stereotypical vitriol as in the recent past. It reminded me of when I was a kid growing up in Oregon, when Western politics were more pragmatic and locally flavored, before an influx of new residents and a media explosion nationalized the state's political culture.

I can't write that the session was completely ideal. Deliberations on many issues occurred behind closed doors and in hallways. And as with any legislative session, good luck on influencing a final product if you're a member of the public. Bad policy made it into law in the name of compromise and harmony.

But that's not unlike the older days. And the lack of meaningless chatter demonstrated to me how little public deliberation actually occurs during a session. We spend a lot of time contemplating and filling empty space. If it takes divided government to actually get some work done in a congenial fashion, then so be it. And they did get work done, thanks to leadership from both parties that found a way to cooperate.

Just like with McMenamins, maybe we can't go back to the way it was. But there's always an alternative that meets our needs, and so this liberal raises his glass to the 2011 Legislature and hopes for more of the same in 2012. You can join me as well, if you wish. I'll be at Stanich's.

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    The original Stanich's up on NE Fremont, of course. Sadly, the second outpost - down in John's Landing - closed last year. (For me, the second one was always the original..)

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    Chris - agreed and so well written. Cheers!

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    Chris, I have come to doubt that any McMenamins was ever about the quality of their food. It seems that the buildings themselves suck all of the inventiveness out of the food. But then the servers make up for it with their slow and indifferent service standards.

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    Chris, very well written.

    I can remember an era when Republicans and Democrats worked together quite effectively. Sessions sometimes went long, but you had collaboration between like-minded Rs and Ds, despite party lines. Sometimes the moderates went after each other, but all the same, it was a world where I could be an intern for Wally Priestly (D, very left-leaning for those of you who didn't know Wally--your loss) and have Clay Myers (R, I think he'd moved from Secretary of State to Treasurer by then) speak very approvingly about Wally to his young intern.

    No, it wasn't a perfect time by any means (that was the session which dragged on into August), but it was marked by a greater concern for, actually, like governing, y'know, instead of scoring brownie points for the next campaign. This last session was a welcome reminder of those days.

    This might sound like a "get off my lawn, kids!" comment but I'm getting horrendously tired of jerks throwing gotcha bombs and posturing instead of doing the actual hard work of making decisions and, like, y'know, governing, with some consideration for the future.

    And maybe this Democrat is just longing for the days when making as much money as you could without regard for the well-being of others was viewed as somewhat scurrulious. The Reagan era has a lot to apologize for, especially the creation of the attack mode in politics and the foundation of the "Greed Is Good" ideology.

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      And yes, I know I set myself up for the R trolls here by that last paragraph.

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      I think it's less a product of Reagan-era politics than on the success that pro-business interests have had at:

      • Using government to promote their economic interests; and

      • Using the media to promote anti-government propaganda to weaken public trust in government and therefore trust in the regulatory role of government; and

      These problems are going to get worse, not better, since the influence of corporate money in our elections is going to increase massively now that corporations can spend money in unlimited amounts directly out of their treasuries on independent expenditures in federal elections.

      People who feel dis-empowered today "ain't seen nothing yet."

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    Stanich's ain't what is was either.

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    Given the major budget problems facing the state in the next biennium, I have no doubts that the 2013 session will be cantankerous and divisive. It's going to be the war of taxes increases vs. budget reductions to balance the state's budget. Legislators had some wiggle room in 2011. They won't have it again.

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