Thursday, November 04, 2004

Oregon Democrats consider Republican gains in U.S.


Mail Tribune

With the Oregon Senate now controlled by Democrats, Gov. Ted Kulongoski predicts a better working relationship with the Legislature next year, but a relationship tempered by a more conservative national agenda.

"I don’t think Oregon sits in isolation from the rest of the country," he said. "I think a lot of the tone of our ability to come together is set at the national level."

Ashland Democrat Alan Bates, who won the Senate District 3 race Tuesday night, agreed, but added, "I worry about the national level moving too far to the right."

Bates and Kulongoski reflected on what the Democratic shift in Oregon means with a more conservative U.S. Congress, which is likely to continue with policies affecting everything from the environment to health care. In particular, Congress could side with the president on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage that are a big concern with many Republican voters.

Bates said he’s worried about social programs taking a hit in Oregon and the potential for overturning Roe v. Wade, creating new social problems. "The social changes will be huge," he said.

Kulongoski expects the Legislature will focus on the state’s continuing budget problems and likely will not get sidetracked by other debates.

While many legislators hope education gets enough funding — $5.4 billion — to maintain current service levels, Kulongoski remains skeptical, given escalating costs such as the state’s Public Employee Retirement System.

"They all believe that until they see what’s left on the table," Kulongoski said. "Then they’ll change their minds."

Bates will push for bipartisan committees and for bipartisan leaders of committees to make sure all sides work together on the issues.

"We have a better mix of people," he said. "We’re going to be a lot less partisan."

Bates said he believes the Democrats were successful this election because they provided voters with moderate candidates.

Rep. Dennis Richardson, a Central Point Republican, agreed with some of the sentiments of Kulongoski and Bates, but said, "It is easy for liberals to imply there is a problem when we’re moving to the right."

But he said liberals need to accept the reality that more and more people share fundamental social values.

"It is about: Who is America, what is America and what do we stand for," he said.

Richardson doesn’t predict any more of a shift to the right in the next four years, although he doesn’t think there will be any shift to the left, either.

He said the Legislature’s primary role will be to show constituents how money is allocated and how it’s spent.

"The governor is the person who is in control of how well things work in the Legislature," he said. "The last session we never saw him."

Sen. Jason Atkinson, a Central Point Republican, said the control of the Senate was the direct result of a Democratic plan.

"It’s going to be very difficult" to function in a bipartisan manner, he said. "They (the Democrats) took it because of gerrymandering."

Atkinson, who moved to Central Point from Jacksonville when his district boundaries were redrawn in 2001, said Democrats outspent the Republicans in the various races.

"There is a very calculated plan that the Democrats have had to take control of the Senate," he said. "I think there is going to be a tremendous amount of backlash."

Still, Atkinson said he is optimistic that the Legislature can find some way of working through these differences. "It’s time to show up and go to work," he said.

Bates, referring to Atkinson’s comments about Democrats outspending Republicans, said the Jim Wright campaign outspent him by a 2-to-1 margin.

He pointed out that he was also forced to move from Eagle Point to Ashland as a representative.

"I got hammered too," he said. "I had to move. I was stunned by it."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail


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