Pick Your Image - A Shotgun Marriage in Oregon

That phrase, a shotgun marriage, was used Wednesday night by national commentator Mark Shields as he analyzed national election results for the PBS Lehrer News Hour.

The image works in Oregon, too, as Democrat John Kitzhaber heads to the governor's office, the Oregon House would be deadlocked 30 to 30, and the Oregon Senate would retain a one-Democrat edge, 16 to 14.

What's required now is that those who won election get about the business of sharing power, a difficult task for lawmakers who only a few days ago were pounding each other in an attempt to rally late voters. Republican and Democrat caucuses met Wednesday and Thursday to begin mapping strategy for the negotiations to come.

One legislator, a Republican who won re-election to the Oregon House, told CFM Wednesday night that she felt it was critical for legislators to reach agreement on sharing power soon in order to keep faith with voters. She was not interested in the public relations problem of a prolonged disagreement. But, of course, talking about sharing power is easier than actually doing it, especially if you were in the Democrat supermajority and now have seen that waste away at the end of the election.

The most recent power-sharing experience was in 2003 when the Senate was deadlocked 15 to 15. It took about a month for negotiations to produce a result that involved compromises on who became Senate President, the power of the number two position in the Senate (Senate Pro-Tem), who would lead Ways and Means and who would get other top-line committee positions.

The House, by contrast, has never been through the power-sharing process .

Here are some of the issues at stake:

  • Who will be House Speaker? The incumbent, Democrat Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, will not have enough votes from his own party to keep the job. Republican Leader Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, may be a contender for the job.  Either one could get the speakership by securing one or more vote from the other side  Or, perhaps a compromise choice could emerge. Three names have emerged over the last hours -- Rep. Vicki Berger, R-Salem; Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Beaverton; and Rep. Mike Schaufler, D-Happy Valley. No doubt other names will crop up as negotiations continue.
  • Who will get the gavels in major committees, including Ways and Means, Revenue, Business, Environment and Health Care? At the same time, Ways and Means may not be a plum assignment, given that the leader there will have to preside over cutting K-12 education, higher education, cops and prisons and social services. Revenue also may not be attractive, if, as many observers presume, the new legislature will not be interested in raising taxes.
  • Who will get other leadership positions, inasmuch as there will not be "majority" and "minority" leaders in a co-equal House?

In the Senate, often a more deliberative body, organization may come easier if Democrats preserve control, even by a one-vote margin as it appears will be the case with Sen. Al Bates, D-Ashland, in an apparent come-from-behind victory in Southern Oregon, and Sen. Martha Schrader's (D-Oregon City) apparent loss in Clackamas County.

In other, past power-sharing arrangements around the country, several approaches have existed -- a coin toss (as in Wyoming), a lieutenant governor's vote to break a tie (as in about 25 states), leaders selected from the governor's party (as in South Dakota and Montana) and the approach most likely in Oregon, a negotiated, shared agreement. One observer at an evening fundraiser in Salem last night even suggested the idea of two presiding officers in the House, a Democrat and a Republican, who would share power, but that approach seems very unlikely.

Finally, talk in D.C. over the last hours has focused on issues in Congress that could be under attack from the new Republican majority in the House.  Health care, deficit reduction, the economic stimulus, the Wall Street bailout -- all have been mentioned by Republicans as not being in sync with the will of voters on such subjects as health care reform, the economic stimulus program, the Wall Street bailout and the size of the federal deficit.

Interestingly enough, there has not been much talk of issues in Oregon as leaders and observers have been trying to sort out the meaning of final election results.  But one issue began to emerge in political conversations yesterday -- a perception that Democrats, especially in the House, reached too far by imposing a list of new taxes in the 2009 legislative session.  They may have paid a price for a reach to the left and that could prompt a move more to the center, including as legislators on the way back to Salem confront the harsh reality of deep budget cuts.

A proposal for an issue yet to be discussed where Tuesday's results will matter a lot – redistricting which, if the 2011 legislature can't get it done, will fall to Democrat Secretary of State Kate Brown.