Big Tents and Family Feuds

A look at the next Oregon legislative session

The Oregon Legislature convenes Jan. 22 in Salem. Hide the children and hang on to your wallets, dear readers. Finally, Democrats truly rule! 

After all those years watching the fiscal starvation of state funding for education and human services chronically underfunded by Republicans because Democrats lacked supermajorities in both chambers — relief at last? 


I once asked Grattan Kerans what it was like in Blue Salem in the late 1980s — before I served there, before the supermajority requirement to raise revenue — when he was speaker of the House, Ed Fadeley was Senate president and Neil Goldschmidt was governor. Kerans smiled and replied: “Tony, we taxed every damned thing that moved back then! 

Not that it was all groovy in those days. My wife Jeannie and I had a five-year-old son at the time, and I participated in the first state workers’ strike in Oregon history. Be careful what you ask for.

I never served in the majority, much less a supermajority, in any of my five sessions in the Legislature. But generally speaking, the more Democrats you have in a meeting, the longer the meeting … if you get my drift.

Hot air is expansive and plentiful, and inter-party squabbles can quickly become feuds.

Legislators generally have an R or a D after their names, but that’s not as descriptive as you’d think. For example, according to some Pew research that Tom Bowerman of PolicyInteractive recently shared on seeking “common ground in Oregon’s divided political culture,” there are eight different clusters of voters statewide, from far-right extremists to moderates to far-left extremists.

Tom’s results were a little wonky for me because I’m Irish. But you’re guaranteed to see every shade of Democrat stereotype this session. Family feuds are fun!

The state’s wizard economist and political weather forecaster has issued a Hot Air Stagnation Advisory for the next six months in Marion County. As nervous as I am about this, many Democrats wandering aimlessly around Marion County in a haze of cap-and-trade carbon ozone conjuring up new nanny socialist strategies to protect me from myself and from you, dear reader — this should be a hoot!

Thank god the federal government isn’t shut down, or we’d really be in a mell of a hess.

The expanding Democratic “big tent” caucuses should allow more room for inter-party discussions, but Democrats can be their own worst enemies. Take our recently departed state labor commissioner, Brad Avakian. I don’t envy incoming commissioner Val Hoyle. After Brad lost his statewide race for secretary of state to Dennis Richardson in 2016, he blamed House Speaker Tina Kotek, Senate President Peter Courtney and Governor Kate Brown for his defeat — claiming they didn’t do enough to help him win. 

So Avakian decided to burn down the Capitol on his way out of Salem.

His first move was mishandling his bureau’s development of rulemaking on pay equity legislation passed by these same Democrats in the 2017 session. Avakian purposely held off releasing his recommendations until Thanksgiving 2018. He did this just months before Oregon’s business sector was faced with implementation of these new regulations.

If Uncle Phil Knight was the political story of 2018 with his $2.5 million to Knute Buehler’s losing gubernatorial campaign, his 2019 political story will be about Nike and a pending class-action pay equity court case.

To cap off his sabotage of the Legislature’s work, Brad just released a damning five-month-long investigation alleging the same three Democratic leaders failed to curb sexual harassment in the Legislature. All three leaders have denied the allegations. I know Tina, Peter and Kate; and I know Brad. And I know that just like most humans, politicians sometimes think that they’re anointed rather that elected and that their shit doesn’t stink.

Of course, instances of sexual harassment existed when I served. Were these leaders responsible for a “culture” of sexual misconduct? We’ll see.

For now, further damage is done to the institution of the Legislature. Brad’s a real piece of work.

There couldn’t be a better person to enter as the new labor commissioner than Val Hoyle. Like Kotek, Courtney and Brown, Val deeply supports private sector pay equity. She has already pledged to work with the business lobby to educate employers on the new requirements.

As to the sexual harassment “culture” of the legislature, Val is a former Democrat majority leader, and a feminist. She’s smart and she’s fair. 

Stay tuned.

Former state Sen. Tony Corcoran of Cottage Grove is former legislator and a retired state employee.