Why credit Kitzhaber for being ‘bipartisan’ in a one-party state?

Dan Lucas_July 2012_BW

by Dan Lucas

In a recent endorsement of Gov. Kitzhaber for a 4th term as Oregon Governor, the Statesman Journal Editorial Board wrote “A key example is how Kitzhaber worked with the Legislature to have a successful, bipartisan special session last fall on pension reform, mental health care, taxes, school finance and other issues — at the same time the federal government was shut down because of partisan gridlock.”

Christian Gaston at The Oregonian expressed a similar sentiment last October after the “Grand Bargain” session. Gaston wrote “Against a backdrop of gridlock in Congress, Kitzhaber can boast that Oregon stands as a national model of bipartisan cooperation.” That was seven months before the same Christian Gaston left The Oregonian to “work for Gov. John Kitzhaber’s re-election campaign.”

I can understand why Gaston wrote what he wrote — it was part of his job application. I don’t understand how the Statesman Journal Editorial Board could write such nonsense.

There is “gridlock” in Washington D.C. because President Obama is utterly incapable of working with anyone not in his own party. He even struggles to work with members of his own party in Congress at times. President Obama only surrounds himself with and can only work with people who completely agree with him.

As a reminder, Democrats have controlled the U.S. Senate since 2007, and they controlled both the Senate and the House of Representatives the first two years of President Obama’s administration. Those first two years are when Democrats “rammed Obamacare through without a single Republican vote.” A move the Washington Post said “inflamed the partisanship that Obama pledged to tame when he campaigned for the White House and has limited Congress’s ability to pass any other major legislation.”

For purposes of comparison, President Clinton worked with a Republican-controlled Senate and House for six of his eight years.

Now on to the second part of the nonsense — that Gov. Kitzhaber should somehow be given credit for being “bipartisan” in a one-party state.

As I wrote a year ago, Democrats control nearly everything in Oregon. The governor is a Democrat and has been for decades. “Both the state House and the state Senate are controlled by Democrats. Republicans haven’t controlled the state House for seven years or the state Senate for 11 years. Every statewide office is held by a Democrat.” “No Republican has been secretary of state, attorney general or treasurer in the past 20 years.”

Gov. Kitzhaber didn’t show bipartisan leadership in the “Grand Bargain.” All he did was work to politically “solve” PERS without drawing too much ire from the public employee unions — who had given him $775,000 in direct campaign contributions in his 2010 campaign. Even if the modest PERS reforms stand up to court challenges, Kitzhaber hasn’t fixed PERS. Past PERS excesses are continuing to bleed budgets at every level of state and local government, including schools, across Oregon. All Kitzhaber did in the “Grand Bargain” was to lure enough Republicans into voting for token tax increases to appease public employee unions so that he could get his modest PERS reforms through with minimal reprisals. No Republican, bipartisan support was needed to pass the modest PERS reforms — they were just needed to pass the token and unnecessary tax increases.

It was appeasement of public employee unions, not bipartisan leadership, from Gov. Kitzhaber.

To read more from Dan, visit www.dan-lucas.com