When the Southern states left the Union during the Civil War, Congress passed a burst of progressive legislation.
One law of that period was the Morrill Act of 1862, which created the land grant colleges.
Something similar has happened in Salem. With Republicans somewhat marginalized in the Oregon Legislature, Democrats have managed to move significant legislation, ending a drought of several legislatures. House Speaker Jeff Merkley in particular has been a more constructive and competent force than his predecessor, Speaker Karen Minnis. Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski is having a very good session.
California has enjoyed a similar burst of legislative activity, but under a Republican governor and a liberal Democratic legislature.Gov. Schwarzenegger calls it "post-partisanship" while Oregon Republicans marginalize themselves. That rare accomplishment caused Jim Carlton of The Wall Street Journal to examine the cause. At its heart, Carlton found an unusual partnership between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez. Carlton reported the two got to know each other better over cigars.
"The state is becoming something of a national model for how the two parties can work together even after years of acrimony," wrote Carlton.
What distinguishes the Schwarzenegger-Nuñez partnership is its hard-headedness and pragmatism. Said Schwarzenegger, "I am a results-oriented person. So is the speaker."
Inured to an obstructionist legislature Oregonians easily assumed it would never change. Now we have considerable progress, but for different reasons than California's watershed moment.
While California's productivity stems from both parties accommodating each other, Oregon Republicans in this legislative session have chosen to marginalize themselves on a surprising number of key votes. It was surprising how many state senators and representatives voted against the measures legalizing civil unions between gay partners and outlawing discrimination against gays. Only two Republican state senators and three representatives voted for the Domestic Partnership Bill. On the Discrimination Bill, four GOP state representatives voted "yes."
Another bill that became law after 15 years of inaction will give Oregon women insurance benefits to pay for contraceptives. The new law requires Oregon insurers to include coverage of contraception, and it requires hospitals to inform victims of sexual assault about emergency contraception and provide it on request.
One could say that Oregon Republicans are the captive of lobbyists or the hostage of the religious right. But the key distinction is all about whether a legislator or a governor comes to play ball. Unlike California's Gov. Schwarzenegger, Oregon Republicans are excluding themselves from defining Oregon's future. Schwarzenegger calls his participation in a productive legislative session "post-partisanship."
Speaking of politics, Tom Brokaw offered this insight to graduates of Skidmore College. "You've been told during your high school years and your college years that you are now about to enter the real world, and you've been wondering what it's like. Let me tell you that the real world is not college. The real world is not high school. The real world, it turns out, is much more like junior high. You are going to encounter, for the rest of your life, the same petty jealousies, the same irrational juvenile behavior, the same uncertainty that you encountered during your adolescent years. That is your burden. We all share it with you. We wish you well."