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The Legislature Bridges the Great Divide 

The Oregon Legislature finally makes some achievements with a redistricting plan, and education reforms.

Maybe Oregon should pass a constitutional amendment requiring the state legislature to be evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Judging by what the legislature achieved during its last session in spite of its partisan division, we could do a lot worse.

One of the legislature's biggest achievements, which we honored with a GLASS SLIPPER three weeks ago, was passing a redistricting plan - something it hadn't previously managed to do for 30 years. But it racked up a number of other significant accomplishments. Among other things, the legislature:

Enacted a series of education reforms. Some of them, such as setting a goal of 40% of Oregonians having a bachelor's degree, 40% having an associate's degree and 20% having at least a high school diploma by 2025, were mostly symbolic. But others, such as requiring school districts to offer at least half-day kindergarten and allowing them to offer full-day kindergarten, were substantial.

Passed several bills in the area of energy and the environment, including a new "Bottle Bill" providing for a 10-cent deposit (up from 5 cents) on recycled plastic bottles and a 35-cent-per-month fee tacked onto electric bills to raise money to help low-income people pay their utility bills.

Approved health care reforms, including creation of a "health insurance exchange" in compliance with President Obama's health care act - a move that should help small businesses afford health coverage for their employees - and a new provision of the Oregon Health Plan aimed at insuring low-income Oregonians have access to preventive and primary care.

Reached agreement on how to close a projected $3.5 billion budget gap while avoiding really draconian cuts to public services. Along with the redistricting plan, this was arguably its greatest success.

The legislature's performance wasn't perfect by a long shot. Among other failures, it didn't do anything about that grim and hoary nemesis of fiscal responsibility, the "kicker" law. But considering how ugly things could have gotten, it has reason to pat itself on the back.

To get a picture of how ugly things could have gotten, just look at the US Congress, reduced to a state of almost complete paralysis by political posturing and pandering. Or look at Minnesota, where partisan squabbling shut down the state government.

Or, if you can stand it, look at California.

Why did the Oregon Legislature manage to (mostly) get the job done where others have failed in today's toxic political climate? Considerable credit goes to John Kitzhaber, who (in contrast to the "Dr. No" image he earned in his previous stint as governor) steered a course of compromise from the outset of the session.

But we think the big reason is that this state has a tradition of political moderation and cooperation. Extremist rhetoric doesn't play well here. With a few horrible exceptions - Bill Sizemore comes to mind - braying demagogues and rigid ideologues don't get very far in Oregon politics.

We weren't serious at the beginning when we talked about a constitutional amendment, but we're completely serious about conferring the GLASS SLIPPER on the legislature. Ladies and gentlemen, well done.


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