Oregon Republican Standoff (copy)

A group, including three Democratic senators, stands among the empty desks of Republican senators during a Senate floor session in May at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem. Republicans denied the Senate a quorum so they could avoid voting on an education revenue bill.  Democrats agreed to kill bills on vaccinations and gun control as part of a deal to bring Republicans back to the Senate. 

If you're among those people who want to believe that the forces that are driving political polarization in the United States eventually will abate, that the middle ground will reemerge — well, this editorial may not be for you.

Actually, we consider ourselves in that camp as well, but evidence is starting to suggest that hopes for moderation might be a touch naive.

The latest evidence came courtesy of a story this week in The New York Times that featured an eye-catching fact: In the United States today, all but one state legislature is dominated by a single political party. (The exception is in Minnesota, where legislators and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz vowed a bipartisan approach — and then launched a legislative session marked by stalemates on issues such as gun control and taxes.)

In every other state, one party enjoys majorities in both houses of the legislature. (Nebraska has a unicameral Legislature; even though it's supposedly nonpartisan, the fact is that Republicans are in the majority.)

Republicans hold an advantage in 28 other legislatures as well, even though some 1,700 new lawmakers won election last fall and most were Democrats.

In Oregon, of course, Democrats enjoy a supermajority that allows them to pass bills that raise revenue, such as the recent gross proceeds tax on certain businesses, without the benefit of a single Republican vote. Gov. Kate Brown is a Democrat as well.

Oregon isn't the only state where a party enjoys legislative supermajorities, the Times noted: California and Nevada are in the same situation, and both those states have Democratic governors as well.

Not to be outdone, Republicans enjoy supermajorities in states including Alabama, Ohio and Tennessee. Those states have Republican governors.

In states where members of a political party find themselves in a minority (or, as Republican lawmakers in Oregon like to joke this session, the "superminority"), the legislative session generally follows the same script: Members in the majority give lip service to the importance of bipartisanship and then pretty much try to do what they want. And why not? Having the votes in your pocket means you don't necessarily need to compromise.

Which is why the events of last month in Salem, when Republican senators left the Capitol, preventing the Senate from attaining the quorum necessary to do business, are being echoed in statehouses nationwide, as members of the minority party search for any way to get even a bit of leverage.

In Tennessee, where Republicans are in control, Democrats staged a walkout in the midst of a bitter budget debate, the Times reported; Republicans ordered the police to go find them. In Colorado, where Democrats dominate, Republicans tried to slow the pace by demanding each bill be read aloud, a tactic that was used in the Oregon House this session. (Democrats responded by having five computers read bills at the same time; the result, the Times reported, was gibberish.)

The end result, of course, is that legislatures dominated by one party push agendas that end up coloring their states even deeper blue or even deeper red. Alabama, dominated by Republicans, passed a bill to effectively ban abortion; Illinois, where Democrats rule, moved to expand abortion rights. Illinois voted to allow sports betting and to legalize recreational marijuana; Alabama passed on both.

But there is something to be said for states that have a bit of a purple tinge, both red and blue. Some observers of Oregon politics will tell you that the 2010 session, in which the Legislature was almost evenly divided, was one of the most effective in recent memory. You can see why: To get anything done in that session, you had to make a real effort to work across the aisle.

But in our current era of polarization, it looks as if the color purple is endangered. (mm)


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