Parsing "Partisanism"

Jeff Alworth

The Oregonian has a front-page story today emblazoned with the title: "Oregonians in Congress: not so independent."  A crack team of Oregonian analysts pored through votes cast and found that the mostly-Democratic delegation almost always voted with their party:

The analysis of nearly 2,000 total votes by Oregon's seven members of Congress excluded ceremonial and routine procedural votes, considering only decisions in which at least 20 percent of members voted in the minority. While Oregon's representatives and senators break with parties somewhat more than colleagues in other parts of the nation, their votes have largely been along party lines.

Partisan voting by the delegation is a sign of the national partisanship that has marked Congress in recent years. Democrats campaigned against that rancor and have promised cooperation in their takeover this year, though opinions differ on how likely that is. The voting analysis shows bipartisanship would be a significant shift....

The polarization is especially significant in Oregon, which elected two of the Senate's best-known mavericks: Democrat Wayne Morse and Republican Mark O. Hatfield.

This is sloppy journalism.  I have no doubt these numbers are accurate, but they exist in a critical context that the paper ignored.  Under Tom DeLay, House rules were "streamlined" to eliminate pesky interference from the opposition: Dems are not invited to committees where legislation is drafted and are not allowed to introduce legislative alternatives. Amendments are shot down by majority vote. Laws get made behind closed doors, by Republicans, without oversight. 

Although things were a bit more open in the Senate, when legislation from that body went to conference committee--the meetings between the House and Senate where different versions of bills are reconciled before final passage--Dems were barred from participation. Worse, in a revolutionary practice, Tom DeLay began actually drafting legislation entirely in conference committees. 

Democrats, particularly in the house, were essentially locked out of the process of governance.  They were offered a single vote, up or down, on legislation over which they had been allowed no input. Is it any real shocker that they tended to vote as a bloc? 

But The Oregonian doesn't stop there.  They then draw a contrast between Oregon's current legislators and those of our golden past:

The polarization is especially significant in Oregon, which elected two of the Senate's best-known mavericks: Democrat Wayne Morse and Republican Mark O. Hatfield.

In 1996, Hatfield's last year in office, he voted with then-Republican leader Trent Lott on just 55 percent of key votes.

What allowed Hatfield and Morse to be successful mavericks?  For one, they were senators.  They represented entire states, not just homogenized districts, and the structure of the senate tends to slow the movement of radical winds.  But more obviously, during most of their service in the Senate, it was controlled by Democrats

The Oregonian devoted a lot of time and a thousand words to this exploration of partisanship in the 109th Congress.  One of the key ways in which partisanship is allowed to flourish is by the rules the leaders adopt about how they'll conduct business.  The last Congress was notable for its partisanship, but far more for the way it was (mis)managed by the Repbulican majority.  They should have mentioned what distinguished that Congress from earlier eras.  It's disingenuous to blame the Oregon delegation for their failure to be independent; with the Hammer in power, they weren't allowed to.

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    The Oregonian seems to be on a bipartisan jihad lately, or should I say since the Dems took over. Somehow it wasn't as big an issue when the Republics were in charge. I do believe, however, that they pine for the days when there was true bipartisanship - over 20 years ago - and this does reflect a much wider public view. However, it all assumes a Republican party pre-Gingrich,Bush, and Delay in Washington and pre-Minnis and crew in Salem. Somehow the disconnect is always blamed on both parties equally.

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    The Big "O's" slant has caused me to line a great many bird cages since the Democrats became the majority in the Oregon Legislaure for the first time in 16 years.

  • alantex (unverified)

    Oregon's largest newspaper grew to be distinctly uncomfortable with the religious (primarily fundamentalist Protestant) rightward movement of the modern republicans. After all The Oregonian has a history of Catholic ownership and management and it wasn't so long ago that Catholics in this country were regarded as just a step above Jews and subject to plenty of discrimination from America's long-time WASP power structure.

    The paper's editorial board may have been frightened by the modern republicans, but they certainly have no love for democrats of any progressive stripe. They yearn for the days when bought-off establishment democrats could be counted on to join with "moderate Oregon republicans" to maintain the status quo and keep the hoi polloi in their place.

    It seems that they view their role in the new democratic era to be framing any moves which cannot garner the support of the republican leadership as high-handed partisan unfairness by democrats.

    <h2>To hear The Oregonian tell it, the democratic majority must make compromises with the republicans to achieve bipartisan lawmaking. I think it should be up to the republicans to make compromises with the dems to avoid being rightly seen as partisan spoilsports.</h2>

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