In Each Other We Trust

Even though Oregon lawmakers are laboring to approve a grand bargain budget deal, legislative leaders such as House GOP Leader Mike McLane and House Speaker Tina Kotek are seeking common ground based on mutual trust, a sharp contrast to gridlock in the nation's capital that has shut down part of the federal government.With the federal government on furlough and Congress in dysfunction, the Oregon legislature is trying to enact a grand bargain in what some hoped would be a one-day special session. That one day came and went without any action, but legislative leaders were meeting to hold together a deal they reached last week.

What's happening in Salem is a sharp contrast to what's not happening in Washington, DC.

As erratic as Oregon’s political process can be from time to time, we are, by comparison, an exemplar of the political process done right. One of the key reasons for Oregon’s success is the ability of Oregon’s leaders to avoid sharing all of their thoughts with the press.

“Grand Bargain” level deal-making is a complicated, circular process. It requires parties to the discussion to go out on political limbs, think creatively and talk about voting for ideas that they would never support on their own. This requires trust.

Trust is hard to earn, but easily eroded — particularly when reinterpreted by enterprising reporters eager for a scoop. Or when one side of the discussions is clearly dancing to the tune of a single drummer.

Over the past weeks, we’ve seen posturing and positioning in the press at the national level. From Twitter to Facebook to the cable news non-stop background noise, the desire to break any new detail about the now-existent federal shutdown was palpable. 

Congressional leaders, eager to define the issue on their terms, have talked openly and often with reporters about the minutiae of discussions with other leaders. Some, like Senator Ted Cruz, made negotiating strategy his campaign stump speech during the August congressional recess, which attracted broad coverage, as did his 21-hour talkathon on the Senate floor last week.

This kind of behavior erodes any semblance of trust that may have existed among these leaders. It boxes people in instead of allowing the creative thinking necessary to find a new path or out-of-the-box solution. Premature disclosure of promising ideas often results in one side's political base going ballistic, forcing their champions to retreat to their original, going-nowhere positions.

Contrast that with Oregon, where for the last few months the discussions on a PERS/tax deal have been occurring in earnest between Governor Kitzhaber and legislative leadership. While no one was secretive, nobody blabbed every detail or possibility that was discussed. More important, there wasn't any finger-pointing. You got the sense leaders were in a room acting like adults, trying to find a solution they all could support.

Very little, if anything, has been said by any of the parties in the room negotiating the package that would appear like grandstanding to the press. Other members have commented on the good/bad/ugly of the proposed deal, but not key legislative leaders. House GOP Leader Mike McLane has gone out of his way to sound optimistic. 

Kitzhaber and caucus leaders have given themselves space to find a solution, to cut a deal. And while the votes have yet to take place in Salem, the chances of success for this deal far exceed any maneuvering on Capitol Hill at the moment, largely because Oregon leaders are focused on building that most fragile of bonds between them — trust.