Pamplin Media Group – Oregonians disappointed by legislative hope despite good economic news

The survey shows more pessimism than a decade ago, when unemployment was higher amid the recovery from the Great Recession

It is a paradox.

The state legislature is awash with money. Oregon’s COVID cases are among the lowest in the nation. And yet, only 31% of Oregonians are optimistic that the current short session of the Legislative Assembly will make meaningful progress on key issues facing Oregon.

That sour outlook, reflected in a survey of 1,400 Oregonians by the Oregon Values ​​and Beliefs Center, is a turnaround from a decade ago, when just 31% of Oregonians were pessimistic about the ability of the Legislative Assembly to meet the challenges of the day – which some said the measures were much tougher.

At the start of 2012, for example, the state’s unemployment rate was 9.1% during a slow recovery from the Great Recession with about 180,000 people out of work.

By contrast, the state’s unemployment rate in December 2021 was 4.1%, down sharply from a peak of 13.2% at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in April 2020. The number of Oregonians without employment at the start of this year was 89,000. Job gains of 107,000 in 2021 set a record. State economists say Oregon is on track to reach pre-pandemic employment levels — 54,000 jobs need to be added — by the fall.

So why this pessimism in the midst of rather positive economic data?

Richard Clucas, a political science professor at Portland State University and co-editor of two books on Oregon politics and government, said answers to a single question about optimism don’t indicate much. on Oregonians’ attitudes toward their state government. He said they are more likely to be influenced by other factors.

“The results likely reflect the state at the time rather than an informed assessment by the Legislative Assembly and the governor,” said Clucas, who is also executive director of the Western Political Science Association.

And, he points out, in some ways things are darker than a decade ago.

“We weren’t in a pandemic or a recession 10 years ago, nor were we beginning to see signs of above-normal inflation. Hyper-partisanship was already on the rise, but we don’t “We didn’t just try to overturn an election. The climate has become a bigger issue and Black Lives Matter has put inequality higher on the political agenda. Given the depth of these issues, I can see why the optimism is not particularly high.FILE PHOTO PMG - Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp of Bend sees room for agreement on some priorities, but says Democrats have broadened the scope of short, even legislative sessions.

Contrasting eras

The political climate inside Oregon is also different.

Democrats retained control of the governorship — no Republicans have been elected since Vic Atiyeh won a second term in 1982 — and majorities in both houses of the Oregon Legislative Assembly during the last decade. Since 2019, majorities have been at least 60%, which is enough for Democrats to pass revenue-raising measures on their own.

Brian Clem, a Democrat from Salem who recently left the Oregon House after 15 years, notes that the state government was more tightly divided a decade ago.

The House was split between 30 Democrats and 30 Republicans for the first time in state history, and the Senate had 16 Democrats and 14 Republicans. The governor was John Kitzhaber, a Democrat who in 2010 won the closest race since 1956 to return for a record third term. His margin of victory was 22,000 out of 1.4 million votes cast.

FILE PHOTO PMG - Lane County Sen. James Manning says collaborative work in Salem is sometimes overshadowed by partisan disputes.Clem recalled that during the 2011 session, Kitzhaber and lawmakers agreed on how to balance the state budget, despite tax revenue growth dampened by the recession and the loss federal aid two years earlier.

They also agreed to the framework for community-based managed care organizations to provide services to low-income recipients of Oregon’s health plan—the short 2012 session provided the details—and legislative and congressional redistricting plans. which have not been challenged in court. The parties even agreed to a series of education bills, though Democrats reduced the scope of state-funded charter schools years later.

“There were reasons to be optimistic at the time,” Clem said.

By contrast, Republicans came out to forestall the prospect of climate change legislation in the 2019 and 2020 sessions and Democrats and Republicans clashed over legislative and congressional redistricting plans in a session. extraordinary of 2021.

Elusive Compromise

Despite their differences, lawmakers ended the 2021 session with potential protests kept under control with each member getting a share of $240 million in federal funds for district projects. Another potential political dust was averted in late 2021, when Brown and leaders brokered a compromise that gave Republicans cash for drought relief and the eradication of illegal cannabis crops, in addition emergency rental assistance supported by both parties.

Yet despite this recent record of bipartisanship, many Oregonians are skeptical.

“The extreme partisan nature of Oregon politics currently prohibits many of the common-sense changes the legislature could make,” wrote Caitlynn Knopp, a Republican from Linn County.

Tamara Marie Vogel, a Democrat from Multnomah County, agreed, “Both sides are inadequate in their attempts to find a compromise and understand the needs and priorities of each other’s voters.”

The call to find common ground was clear in the survey. More than twice as many respondents (47% vs. 22%) prioritized political leaders making compromises to get things done, over leaders who stick to their beliefs even if little is accomplished . These results mirror a 2019 study, which found 41% compromise and 15% adherence to beliefs.

Scope of the session

Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner said he hopes the success of the 2021 special session will be the model for what happens in this year’s short 35-day session, which is due to end. March 7.

“There have certainly been issues in previous legislative sessions when we had a lot of friction that led to unfortunate walkouts and other problematic behavior,” the Lake Oswego Democrat said on the opening day of the session. “But I don’t see any issues here…where people won’t be able to come together, have productive conversations and come to consensus. I think you’re going to see a lot of people buying into these issues.”

Among those issues: Oregon’s post-pandemic workforce, including healthcare workers; child care and education needs; and inadequate and unaffordable housing.

Wagner said conflicts between parties often attract more attention than cooperation.

“It doesn’t play well as we focus on areas of friction,” he said. “But a lot of work is done when people from both sides, rural and urban Oregon, work together to try to come up with solutions.”

Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp of Bend is one of three who have led Republicans in both chambers. (He was the House Majority Leader in 2003, when Republicans controlled that chamber.) He said there was room for agreement on some priorities — such as hand training grants. and more help for law enforcement — but he criticized majority Democrats for expanding the scope of short sittings.

“This session is for technical changes, emergencies and budget items,” he said. “We think there should be a plain reading of these, and there should be a bill that contains them to start the session.”

Sen. James Manning Jr., a Democrat from Eugene, said most laws were backed by bipartisan majorities. “But we understand the differences,” said Manning, whose district has both urban and rural residents.

“A lot of bills that pass in a short session are ones where a lot of work has already been done,” said Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland. “This work has been bipartisan.”

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how it was done

The latest statewide survey by the Oregon Values ​​and Beliefs Center was conducted online between Jan. 13 and Jan. 20 — response time was about 15 minutes — and participants had at least 18 years old. The margin of error ranges from 1.6 to 2.6 percentage points for the full snack. You can see more details about the January survey at


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The Oregon Center for Values ​​and Beliefs is committed to conducting public opinion research at the highest level. To help achieve this, the nonprofit assembles a large research panel of Oregonians to ensure that all voices are represented in public policy discussions in a valid and statistically reliable way.

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