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Balanced Approach Vital for Merkley

by Editorial Board
The Oregonian, November 6, 2008

Many Northwest issues divide along pragmatic and regional, not partisan, lines

(AP photo) Adult chinook salmon swim past Bonneville Dam. New tracking of young salmon downstream surprised scientists. As everything begins to sink in for Jeff Merkley, the projected winner in Oregon's tight race for the U.S. Senate, he would do well to spend a few minutes thinking about the concepts of political partisanship and political independence.

We think independence is one of the characteristics that Oregon voters value the most in their public officials over time. The state's most recent senators -- Wayne Morse, Bob Packwood, Mark Hatfield, Ron Wyden and, yes, Gordon Smith, the Republican whom Merkley defeated in this election, all have exhibited independent streaks that have benefited their home state.

Merkley, partly because he has been so successful as an Oregon legislator, has been more of a party man. And it would be both uncharacteristic and unwise for him, as a freshman senator, to suddenly declare his independence from the Democratic Party leaders who did so much to aid him in both the primary and general elections this year.

Senate Democrats did very well in Tuesday's tidal electoral gains, but they did not get to their magic number of 60 votes, the three-fifths majority against which all further resistance would be futile. That means that one key to a successful session, by their definition, will be party discipline. We're not suggesting Merkley should or would go maverick on them. But he should think hard about where Oregon's interests diverge from those of the Democratic Party and be prepared to choose.

We've mentioned here before that the national party's trade policies run at odds with the interests of our state, where one in four jobs depends on trade, and we hope Merkley approaches the subject with appropriate caution and thorough analysis. There may be landmines hidden in other places, too, such as the defense budget and Medicare reform.

Fortunately for Oregon, a number of key issues defy partisan lines. The biennial attacks on the Bonneville Power Administration, for example, tend to be bipartisan and based mostly on regional, not ideological, interests. The defense of the BPA by the Northwest delegation has also been generally bipartisan.

The same is true of federal payments for Oregon's rural counties, although the politics of that issue this year were complicated enough to suggest the need for a canvass of just where Oregon's delegation is on the issue. County payments are likely to come up again during Merkley's term and, absent a better solution, remain important. Salmon recovery tends to be a bipartisan issue here, too, although there are plenty of snares in that discussion.

From forest policy to the farm bill there are plenty of issues affecting our state that require independence, not partisanship, and it will be Merkley's new task to sort them out. It's vital that he do it carefully and well.

What your advice to Oregon's new senator-elect, Jeff Merkley?

Related Pages:
Sali and Minnick Clash Over Stance on Salmon and Dams by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 10/17/8

Editorial Board
Balanced Approach Vital for Merkley
The Oregonian, November 6, 2008

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