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.