Democrats must not overreach


The Democratic Party's dominance in Tuesday's election is a sign that voters are willing to give Democrats a chance to tackle the major issues of the day - including the economy, the environment and education.

But Democrats will make a grave mistake if they expand that permissive 'chance' into a mandate and proceed to govern - in Oregon and nationally - with the belief that voters have endorsed all things Democratic.

When you cut through the immense noise of this election, there was one overriding reason for Democrats' big win Tuesday: Citizens were profoundly unhappy with the country's direction. They wanted to throw out the party of President Bush and allow Democrats an opportunity to govern.

In fact, public opinion research done 10 days ago for the Portland Tribune indicated that 83 percent of Oregonians believe the nation is on the wrong track. And 55 percent believe Oregon is on the wrong track.

Both negative assessments have grown more dire in the past 30 days as the economy has worsened. Democrats should address citizens' concerns - and fears of insecurity - not by rushing to enact every piece of legislation that they promised, but by concentrating on those issues of primary and immediate importance to the vast majority of Americans.

Here are those priorities:

• Nationally, it's the economy. Even before Barack Obama takes office in January, Congress should enact an economic-recovery plan that places a heavy emphasis on investing in infrastructure. Around the nation, including in the Portland region, there are numerous highway, bridge, sewer and water projects that are ready to go forward - all they require is funding.

Obama has proposed a $160 billion stimulus package that would include some public-works spending. But we see no reason for Congress to wait for inauguration day. The sooner Congress acts, the faster those dollars can be put to work in the economy to create construction jobs for Americans and needed community and transportation improvements.

By adopting the stimulus package in 2008, Congress will give Obama, the new Congress and the nation the best chance for early success in 2009.

• In Oregon, it's jobs, schools and environment. The Democratic surge on Tuesday largely completed the party's takeover in Oregon. With the result of the U.S. Senate race still undecided Wednesday afternoon, Republicans might lose their remaining statewide officeholder, Sen. Gordon Smith.

Democrats also picked up seats in the Legislature, giving them nearly complete control of the agenda in Salem.

But this is not the time for a power grab based on election night mandates. It's about using that power appropriately to advance specific causes to benefit all Oregonians. And the Legislature, when it meets in January, will be further constrained by state revenues that are falling due to the faltering economy.

Democrats should not look to general tax increases as a first resort. Rather, they must target their efforts - including investments to create immediate jobs.

Their next priority must be protecting education from the worst of the coming budget reductions.

A third area of emphasis must be to maintain Oregon's leadership on environmental issues and global warming. Such an initiative not only addresses a moral issue, but also positions the state for strong economic growth as it develops new technologies for a greener future.

These three priorities - education, jobs and the environment - are interconnected. By investing in education and the environment, Oregon will boost its economy and enhance its quality of life. And those are outcomes that all Oregonians, regardless of political party, can support.