April 25, 2001 11:00 pm

Legislators must

find common ground

Partisanship has run rampant in the Oregon Legislature the past few sessions. Decisions on issues and strategies have been determined in party caucuses, and legislators encouraged not to stray from their partys position. The result has been legislative sessions where more time was spent bickering than finding solutions to the states problems and issues. The concept of finding and building consensus among opposing viewpoints seemed like a lost art.

The 2001 session began with Gov. John Kitzhaber, House Speaker Mark Simmons, R-Elgin, and Senate President Gene Derfler, R-Salem, pledging to make more of an effort to bring people together to find solutions. By and large, the bickering and the partisanship havent appeared to be quite as severe this year, though there have been reports that some committee chairmen have refused to hear bills they oppose. Still, Simmons and Derfler dont appear as committed to partisan causes as some of their predecessors were.

Derfler, with a 16-14 Republican majority in the Senate, even went so far as to appoint Senate Minority Leader Kate Brown, D-Portland, to the budget writing Joint Ways and Means Committee in the hope of finding common ground and moving the session along. The move made sense. But Derflers decision didnt set with all of his party cronies. Sen. Gary George, R-Newberg, circulated a letter among lawmakers suggesting Derfler had gone too far. A new Senate president at this point could lead to a constructive and productive conclusion to this disappointing session, George wrote. He was also upset that Derfler has indicated support for Kitzhabers plan to use some of the kicker money.

But George was the one who went too far. On Tuesday, Derfler stripped Georges committee chairmanship by shutting down the Transportation Committee.

Georges attitude is symptomatic of whats wrong with politics these days. Too many elected officials are more concerned with party politics and addressing special interests concerns than they are in finding common ground and tackling important issues.

Derfler understands the realities of getting work done in an almost evenly split chamber. Times running out on this session. Decisions have to be made. Finding common ground is critical.

Hows Legislature doing?

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