This month we vote in a primary election, the first of a two-stage process for selecting our elected officials. The Democrats and Republicans each will decide who to nominate for partisan positions.
As the Representative for Oregon House District 38, which includes Lake Oswego, my name is on the primary ballot. But because no one else from either party filed for my position, I have a break from the hard work of campaigning.
This break allows me time to reflect on what is happening in our partisan politics.
Political parties serve a useful purpose. Each stands for a broad set of principles. The party label helps voters decide which candidate to support without having to study all the candidates’ individual positions.
In a healthy two-party democracy there is significant overlap in the positions taken by the parties. If one of the parties becomes too extreme, it will lose moderate voters to the other party. This process tends to produce leaders who fall somewhere toward the middle of the political spectrum.
But this function appears to be breaking down in Oregon and elsewhere in the country. Rather than moderating the debate on public issues, our two-party system now divides us on many issues.
In the Oregon Legislature, partisanship has emerged as a much more significant force than a generation ago. For example, when my father served as an Oregon State Senator in the early 1970’s separate caucus meetings of Republicans and of Democrats were rare.
When I served in the 2003 session I found Republicans and Democrats splitting up for caucus meetings almost daily. On days when bills with a partisan slant were coming to a vote we sometimes would leave the floor several times during the proceedings to caucus separately over strategy.
The situation is even worse in the U.S. Congress. Rancor and suspicion now pervade much of the process.
We need to moderate the tone of political debate. I have tried to do this in my service in the Oregon House. One method is to seek allies in the other party on issues that will not break on a pure party line.
Another is to use care in the choice of language in public debate. Even if one suspects the motives of a legislator on the other side of an issue, it is rarely appropriate to express those suspicions in public.
Although the 2003 legislative session saw plenty of partisanship, it also saw some hopeful signs. The most important achievements of the session were passed with a coalition that included moderates from both parties.
Whether this reemergence of bipartisanship continues in the 2005 legislative session depends, in part, on the outcome of primary elections this month. Thoughtful moderate Republicans, like Vic Backlund of Keizer and Susan Morgan
of Myrtle Creek, face challenges from more extreme candidates of their own party. Oregonians all across the state should hope that these challenges fail.
I would like to hear from local residents, regardless of party affiliation. I can be reached by regular mail at 322 Second Street, Lake Oswego, OR 97034 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Miles run year to date: 73
At this date last year: 21
Total run in 2013: 257
In 2012: 129
In 2011: 113
In 2010: 125
In 2009: 67
In 2008: 28
In 2007: 113
In 2006: 100
In 2005: 149
In 2004: 204
In 2003: 269