Oregons legislative leaders may have faced one of the toughest audiences theyre going to see this year when they entered Hearing Room 50 at the Oregon Capitol recently.
As they took their seats at the front table, every set of eyeballs staring back at them belonged to a journalist looking for a relevant story.
Theyre familiar with journalists. Were the ones who want answers and transparency in government. When we dont think our questions are addressed, we ask again.
That occurred several times last week as journalists from across the state posed questions to Gov. John Kitzhaber and the majority and minority leaders from the House and Senate. While we listened for quotes that would answer our questions, they were aware that anything they said might be published or broadcast on a large scale. Its always an interesting dynamic.
This particular occasion was the annual legislative preview sponsored by the Portland bureau of The Associated Press. Its a meeting Ive been traveling to since becoming editor more than six years ago.
Its a session that can be overwhelming by the wide range of topics discussed, the many points of view and the fast pace. As the name suggests, its a preview of the issues the Legislature expects to take up during this years short session. But its often a recap of the previous year as well. And, once the floor is opened for questions from the journalists, any topic might come forward.
The meeting was typical in that Democrats and Republicans talked of wanting to achieve many similar goals. They just have different ways of getting there.
Both parties want to create jobs and decrease Oregons unemployment rate. Both touted last years historic investment in K-12 education and they want to make college more affordable. The Democrats mentioned a bill that would make community college free for Oregon students. Republicans want to provide Oregon college graduates a tax deduction for paying their student loan interest if they stay in Oregon to work.
Both parties also are acutely aware that Democrats are in the majority.
We govern by prodding, suggesting and cajoling, Republican Rep. Mike McLane of Powell Butte said. I hope the majority party doesnt roll back the agreements weve made. Lets focus on what we can accomplish together.
Democrat Val Hoyle of Eugene was among those who admitted the election year could be a factor in what the Legislature is able to do: Its the Democrats job to show they know how to govern. For the Republicans who are up for election, their job is to get re-elected.
Despite some skeptical looks being exchanged, the party members tend to be optimistic regarding their ability to work together when the session begins Monday.
Were not Congress, said Republican Julie Parrish of West Linn. We can still work across the aisle.
The legislators acknowledged their audience, joking about recent headlines and stories. Republican Ted Ferrioli of John Day made a point to say, I still read print media.
All the legislators mentioned the brief 35-day session limits what can be done. Senate President Peter Courtney, a Democrat from Salem, even said hes fearful theyve set the bar too high for what can be accomplished.
Legislators will see 80 Senate bills and 154 House bills introduced, and as many as 46 more may be filed on opening day. Another dozen resolutions are on the agenda.
From the sounds of the meeting, the biggest focus may be on bills designed to correct problems that surfaced over the Cover Oregon website.
I guarantee journalists across the state will keep demanding to know who and whats to blame for the website malfunctions. Thats what we do.
News-Review Editor Vicki Menard can be reached at 541-957-4203 or by email at email@example.com.