Friends With Benefits
As a divided Oregon Legislature convenes, relationships—between people, not parties— could decide the state’s future
After November’s fiercely partisan state elections left even battle-born political veterans bruised, total gridlock would be the easy prediction for the 2011 Oregon Legislature. This month, lawmakers gather to face a $3.5 billion budget hole, the once-a-decade tug-of-war of redistricting, and a near-perfect split between Democrats and Republicans. Incoming (and returning) Democratic governor John Kitzhaber won just seven of 36 counties. And yet—somehow—many legislators are optimistic. Albany Republican Andy Olson even dares to imagine “the greatest session in Oregon history.”
Numerous Salem insiders agreed that the key to success lies in trust between individuals, across party lines. And so we asked several lawmakers to name their BPF—best political friend—in the rival party, and about life experiences that prepared them for the difficult compromises ahead.
Rep. Andy Olson & Rep. Jeff Barker
THIN RED/BLUE LINE
These two ex-cops plan to push medical marijuana and human-trafficking reforms.
ANDY OLSON The Albany Republican served in the state police for 29 years.
WHY JEFF? Being a cop is a common ground. You say it like it is. You don’t pull punches.
WHAT’S YOUR BEST POLITICAL TOOL? John Maxwell wrote in 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership that “a leader touches a heart before he asks for a hand.” Don’t pound on the table. Say, “This is what I’d like to see. Can you help?”
WHAT DID BEING A MIDDLE CHILD TEACH YOU? My older brother always beat me up … when he wasn’t protecting me.
WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM THE GOVERNOR? To not veto things coming out of the Legislature. He was the granddaddy of veto.
JEFF BARKER The Aloha Democrat (and ex-marine) retired from the Portland Police Bureau as a lieutenant.
WHY ANDY? If it’s just a Republican-Democrat problem, we always can sit down and work it out.
BEST POLITICAL TOOL? As a cop on the street, you have to resolve issues all the time.
YOUR MOST UNLIKELY FRIEND? Charles Moose, the former Portland police chief. I was active in the union. He had a hell of a temper, but we would take one issue at a time, have a blowup, then move on.
A FORMATIVE COMPROMISE EXPERIENCE? I joined the Marine Corps at 18. You don’t get what you want. You work it out.
WHAT TRIGGERS YOUR INNER REPUBLICAN? Public safety. I have the life experience. It isn’t theory.
WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM KITZHABER? Lead down the middle. Take contentious stuff off the table.
Rep. Bob Jenson & Rep. Jefferson Smith
THE URBAN-RURAL ODD COUPLE
A youthful Dem and a GOP elder teamed up on a major water bill.
BOB JENSON The Pendleton Republican was first elected as a Democrat.
WHY JEFFERSON? I’d like to see all legislators form social friendships with people from both sides. It’s easier to work with someone whom you’ve discovered to be a real person.
WILL THE RELATIONSHIP HELP? Sure. If we can work together, the even divide in the House could be the best thing that ever happened.
YOUR LAST PHYSICAL ALTERCATION? I’ve had a few physical alterations.
INNER DEMOCRAT? I don’t think taxes are the worst thing in the world. I like that I-84 puts me a three-hour drive from Portland.
WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM THE GOVERNOR? I don’t want him to change his pro-environment positions, but I want him to realize that we have to have some jobs and some money.
JEFFERSON SMITH The east Portland Democrat is vice-chair of the House Environment and Water Committee.
WHY BOB? Water issues are traditionally where political careers go to die, but we put together a bill. And I stayed at his place during the Pendleton Round-Up.
MOST UNLIKELY FRIEND? Probably my wife. I don’t think she liked me very much when we met. She likes me sometimes now.
YOUR LAST FIGHT? On a basketball court, in my younger years.
FAMILY PECKING ORDER? Biologically, I’m solo. Legally, I have two brothers. I have a foster brother. So I’ve been both the older and younger sibling. I guess that means I can be both immature and, occasionally, a leader.
WISH LIST FOR KITZ? Balance the budget. Help our economic future. Keep our commitment to being a beautiful place.
Rep. Tim Freeman & Rep. Jules Bailey
ROSEBURG MEETS SOUTHEAST
A PDX liberal and a staunch conservative worked on energy-efficiency funding.
TIM FREEDMAN The Roseburg Republican runs a gas station and a Harley-Davidson ?owners group.
WHY JULES? We were charter members of the Oregon Business Alliance’s Centered Leadership Group. We agreed, day one, we would respect the other’s opinion. He represents a district where I would be lucky to get 10 percent of the vote. And vice versa.
HOW DID YOU LEARN TO? COMPROMISE? I grew larger and stronger than my oldest brother, and that was that. I was captain of the football team. I own my own business. Until I got married, I never had to compromise—but she’s to the right of me.
FROM THE GOVERNOR? John Kitzhaber spent time in Roseburg and did some doctoring on my grandma. I just want involvement. Governor Ted was disengaged. A governor needs to be a partner.
JULES BAILEY The 31-year-old Democrat represents inner Southeast Portland and runs a sustainable development consultancy.
HOW DID YOU AND FREEMAN BOND? In Roseburg, he took me to a mill and up into the mountains to visit logging operations. In Portland, we volunteered at the Oregon Food Bank. He’s a guy I’d go have a beer with.
YOUR BEST TOOLS? Calm and perspective. As a Unicef consultant in southern Sudan, ?I worked in a place where landmines and kids with AK-47s are your big concerns.
LESSON IN COMPROMISE? My mom and dad divorced when I was 5. I spent my childhood watching them negotiate my future.
LAST PHYSICAL FIGHT? ?I studied martial arts for 14 years. So, never. When you know how to fight, you often don’t have to.
FROM THE GOVERNOR? ?We need him to set an agenda and then spend time in our offices convincing us his plan is the right one.
Rep. Vicki Berger & Sen. Betsy Johnson
Two no-nonsense veterans find common ground in common-sense style.
VICKI BERGER The Salem Republican is a daughter of Richard Chambers, author of Oregon’s landmark Bottle Bill.
WHY BETSY? She makes you laugh, but with an edge. You can’t miss her in a room. We don’t run in the same policy circles. But if I need something, I can go to her in a heartbeat.
BEST POLITICAL TOOL? Relationships get bills passed. No matter how you feel, keep relationships alive.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THE BOTTLE BILL? I was 18. My father was obsessed. I thought, I’d like to do something like that someday.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN AS THE YOUNGEST OF THREE SIBLINGS? I never compromised on anything. They said I had an aggressive-?aggressive personality.
INNER DEMOCRAT? Gay rights. Human beings are human beings.
THE GOVERNOR SHOULD … Work on compensation and benefit issues the Legislature cannot impact. We get the bill for negotiations that we don’t do.
BESTY JOHNSON The Scappoose Democrat, founder of a helicopter company, is 59.
WHY VICKI? She’s forthright. No oblique-speak. If something is bullshit, it’s bullshit.
YOUR MOST VALUABLE TOOL? I come from a world where plain speaking is required: 20 years as a commercial helicopter pilot. We flew in demanding conditions for the US Geological Survey on Mount St. Helens. No room for ambiguity or subtlety.
INNER REPUBLICAN? I come from a Republican family. My father served in the House. We were good friends with the McCalls. Now we let the fringes dominate.
WHAT DID YOUR FATHER TEACH YOU? Oregon is small. Before you call someone a son of a bitch, find out who his brother-in-law is. I have not always heeded that.
FROM THE GOVERNOR? Govern all of Oregon—the seven counties that elected him and Red Oregon as well. He needs to get out more.
Senator Ginny Burdick & Senator Frank Morse
UPPER HOUSE, UPPER CLASS
Two policy-wonk veterans bonded over a tax-credit sunset
GINNY BURDICK The Portland Democrat chairs the Senate’s Finance and Revenue Committee.
WHY FRANK? Any time you talk tax credits, you’re talking about someone’s baby. But we made it bipartisan.
BEST POLITICAL TOOL: My label is “Portland liberal.” But I got a gun-control bill through a GOP-controlled legislature. I listen, I’m straightforward, and I don’t play games.
MOST UNLIKELY FRIEND: I have a lot of people who, when they call me, say “Hi, Ginny—it’s your favorite Republican.” I have lots of friends whom I have political differences with. It’s just the way I am. Rep. Wayne Krieger (R-Gold Beach) and I were both chairs of the respective judiciary committees, and people were going to buy tickets to see the fireworks. But we ended up being great friends.
FORMATIVE COMPROMISE: I worked as a reporter, and I was very serious. I would go into situations just brimming with outrage. And then I would actually talk to people and discover that, dammit, it’s just not that simple.
INNER REPUBLICAN? Fiscal discipline. I want to spend money wisely, on things that are important.
FROM THE GOVERNOR? Be very engaged with both sides.
FRANK MORSE The Albany Republican served as president of a gravel company his father founded.
THIS TIME, RELATIONSHIPS ARE… Crucial. I look forward to it. I want to work with the other side. Nothing is worse than serving in a superminority. It’s hard to be irrelevant.
BEST POLITICAL TOOL: I was president of a family-run company with 600 employees. That cannot work unless you collaborate to solve problems.
FORMATIVE COMPROMISE: My dad ran his business with his two brothers. When I was a kid, I’d go with him to their “business meetings”—i.e., lunch. They never made a decision on a 2–1 split. They always formed consensus.
INNER DEMOCRAT? I’m a very moderate, open-minded person on social issues. And while I’m fiscally conservative, I’m pragmatic.
FROM THE GOVERNOR? He’s the key player, frankly, in bringing people together to find solutions. If we go down a purely partisan road, it’ll be hell.