Endgame at the Legislature 2013: A Special Time

Paul Evans

Between now and then we can expect a few last minute pitched fights and some endgame drama that can only occur when so many have so much time because so few are involved in the final negotiations. It is always a fun time to visit the Capitol to learn the context of battles past and present.

Soon the 2013 Legislative Session will be history. It will have passed a passed a budget, reconstituted the form and function of several state agencies, and it will have considered thousands of policy proposals.

Between now and then we can expect a few last minute pitched fights and some endgame drama that can only occur when so many have so much time because so few are involved in the final negotiations. It is always a fun time to visit the Capitol to learn the context of battles past and present.

There will be a lot for Oregonians to talk about after Sine Die (the official end of the Session). Policy advocates will cheer or shake their heads – or both. Legislators and staff will review the Session for highlights that can be explained to a weary electorate. And agencies can take a brief pause to consider the anticipated and unanticipated consequences of the decisions made – and begin to plan the execution of a flurry of new laws.

In communities large and small there will be discussions about all the things left on the table – about things that could and should have been done before adjournment. Across the state there will be gatherings of advocates reviewing priorities and plotting new strategies for favored policies and desired outcomes.

Truth be told there were things that I had hoped would have been accomplished in 2013 that weren’t. However, the 2013 Legislature took affirmative steps to support our schools, our veterans’ and did the hard, unpopular work of reviewing public compensation structures and systems. As a citizen I am always proud of the Legislature even when I cannot understand its choices.

Here, in the United States, we have a federalist system that is far different from what was established at our origin. In Oregon, we have a state that has evolved into an amalgamation of local, regional, and state functions that struggle with the notions of liberty and life; with the roles of the individual and the community. Our inherent distrust of government bleeds over into each, every policy debate – and at times we contradict ourselves.

Such is the reality of a great, evolving, nation-state. This past weekend in observance of Flag Day, I was reminded of the value of a simple piece of colored cloth. In many ways our flag is unremarkable: three colors, stars, stripes, and a regular rectangle shape.

And yet, it is a vessel that conveys a living testament to the values and virtues of a nation that admits our failings, a nation that claims humanity is smart enough to govern ourselves and evolve as circumstances warrant. Our nation is not the result of a revolution but rather a revolution manifest – we renew the revolution through our advocacy for progress as we understand it – we are the revolution still.

For good or ill, the men that led the rebellion against the Crown in 1776 did so for their own reasons. Neither gods nor goats, the Founders were people that saw an opportunity to progress and they took it. In their shadow we now stand. An amalgamation of men and women empowered with the tools for shaping our own destiny. We are citizens of a government that can facilitate progress when we demand it.

Our Flag is a nothing less or more than a symbol of promise: promise realized – or promise unrealized – it is a symbol of what can be. Each, every generation of citizens is given custody of the promise that is our nation, state, and communities.

Here we celebrate a “citizen-legislature.” There are still a few weeks of life left in the 2013 Legislature. Time remains for those with the courage to seize the moments. And anyone that says they know what will happen – precisely – is either delusional or a liar (or both).

One of the best things about Oregon and our unique form of democratic representation is that we still have a legislative body comprised of men and women that must live in the communities they seek to govern. Though recent structural and systemic changes in the legislature make it more burdensome for citizens to serve in the body and maintain employment elsewhere, we still have a deliberative body that is grounded in the daily life of our citizenry.

Before the last frenzied chapter of this Legislative Session captures our attention and holds us hostage to our passions and/or political ideologies – take a moment and celebrate our approach to self-governance. We should recognize the gift we have been given as inheritors of a self-governed political state; we must honor that gift through commitment to making our voices heard, our preferences understood.

Loud, messy, and at times mind-numbingly frustrating our Legislature remains a relatively citizen-centric organization: our representatives and senators may not always do what we hope or want, but we have dedicated men and women that usually accomplish what we need. But they depend upon us to remind them of our priorities – they need citizens to hold them accountable for the promises and statements made to get them to the forum.

Though subject to debate, I believe that part of our national struggle is the growing schism between members of Congress: absent relationships and trust – they rely upon ideological theories and partisan expectations. Our Legislature is not perfect, nor is it likely going to become perfect. But unlike Congress, we still have a culture where political adversaries are expected to find meaningful resolution to disputes; a culture that expects progress for the few as well as the many.

These next few weeks it is imperative that advocates push even harder upon our elected leaders for the issues we care about, it is our duty to agitate for the policies, procedures, and programs we believe necessary to move our Oregon forward. Yet, even as we go about the serious work of securing these accomplishments let us remember to be “happy warriors” – advocates committed to the cause as well as the culture.

In Oregon we know the value of separating a position from a person; we recognize the importance of remaining able to disagree – passionately at times – without being disagreeable. We are always stronger when we encourage diversity of opinion and thought – and we are always better for making informed decisions in an open, public, and transparent process.

Let us encourage our leaders to approach the endgame with a renewed investment in shaping the future together – through dialogue and discussion. There will be some big choices to make and we must remind our leaders to define the circumstances and rationale for the choices made on our behalf. In the end, people will generally help support what we understand as necessary.

We are living in extraordinary times and we hold the power of charting a new course for our nation, state, and communities within our grasp. We must use both head and heart as we fulfill our responsibilities as an engaged citizenry, and we must do so with an appreciation for the opportunities inherent to living in this age – at this time.

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