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Bennett's Blog: Annual consumption of fruitcake and legislatures? Print E-mail

chuck-bennettby Chuck Bennett, Director of Governmental Relations

No question can put a chill on the holiday season as quickly as your Mom interrupting Chrismas dinner speculation about bowl games with, "So honey, how'd you like the fruitcake?"

You can feel the mashed potatoes curdling in your stomach. The question launches a desperate mental search for the answer recognizing your filial affection but remaining true to the conviction that a gift of fruit cake comes in behind new underwear and no gift at all.

Ask anyone about it.

"It's the torte from hell." "There isn't enough whip cream on earth." "I'm not clear what I'm eating."

Poll results (yes there is lots of polling around this holiday tradition) tend to show a constant 30% of respondents who just plain like the stuff or have never been honest with their parents and don't plan to begin now. The remaining 70% express disdain ranging from culinary to outright curses.

So, what's the political equivalent of a food group described by admirers as too rich to be eaten more than once every couple of years?

It has to be the call for annual meetings of the Legislature. Pass the fruitcake.

The latest push for the yearly meetings, which Oregon voters have rejected, comes from the recently completed report of the Public Commission on the Oregon Legislature. The argument is a fairly simple one -- times have made government more complex so the legislature should meet more often to address fiscal, policy and executive oversight functions. It calls for annual sessions beginning immediately. Given the timing, since the legislature begins meeting today, immediately means sometime in 2008.

Aside from legislators, there has not been a resounding hallelujah coming from the public. It's probably because many Oregonians figure the legislature meets full time anyway and if they don't, life seems to go on. It seems the public remembers that all of the great legislation that created Oregon's national reputation as an innovative place to live and do business was passed by legislatures that met for only a few months every two years.

The beach bill, land use planning, innovative energy bills, the bottle bill, used and new car lemon laws, etc., etc., were all passed at the same time the legislature met to approve a biennial budget, provide executive oversight and even dream up newer policy options. Glenn Jackson built spectacular highway and bridge projects, L.B. Day defined the DEQ and LCDC and Tom McCall just led -- and all without the benefit of annual sessions.

The real question is whether annual sessions would have any impact on what is perceived as an institution with serious flaws, all of which seem to be self-inflicted and policitical. And that's political in the sense of election campaigns where the public spectacle is million dollar races for thousand dollar jobs. Wildly negative electioneering has done little to create civility, bipartisanship or a public sense of direction or competence.

Any permanent change in the legislature's biennial meeting schedule would require voter approval to change the state Constitution. It would face an uphill fight as voters review current laws that allow special sessions anytime the governor or legislature wants to call itself back to Salem and a legislative Emergency Board of senior and experienced lawmakers that provides interim budgetary latitude and agency oversite. Voters would have to weigh the possible benefits of more legislative meetings with the real possibility that election year politics would result in a partisan spectacle in advance of party primaries and the General Election.

For legislators or prospective legislators, who have jobs or businesses outside the Capitol, the problem becomes even more acute. It's one thing to take a leave every 24 months that lasts now 7-to-8 months. But to essentially do that every year, despite promises of tight timelines by supporters of the measure, would even more drastically filter out the kind of leadership the state needs so desperately.

This is only one of many changes in legislative operations proposed by the commission after its study. More later -- the gavel is pounding them into order and you never know, there might be a little fruitcake in that reception line after the swearing-in.




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This page was last updated on Wednesday, February 07, 2007 .