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Was a house divided actually better for Oregon?

Legislators ponder implications of a Democratic majority


For the past two years, Oregon’s House of Representatives has been evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.

Interestingly, rather than create gridlock, the split seemed to actually enhance bipartisanship and compromise, according to such legislators as Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River, whose 52nd District covers Sandy and the mountain villages, and Rep. Greg Matthews, D-Gresham, whose 50th district covers Gresham as well as a slice of Southeast Portland.

Johnson won his second term on Nov. 6 and Matthews won his third term. Johnson will fall into the House minority, while Matthews now belongs to the new Democratic majority in the House.

Matthews said he didn’t mind working in an evenly split House.

“I enjoyed that both sides were forced to the middle,” he said. “There’s a lot of good ideas in the middle.”

That’s a sentiment shared by Johnson.

Rep. Mark JohnsonIn the past session, Democrats and the GOP worked together effectively on education and other issues, he says, noting he served as co-chairman of the House Education Committee’s Higher Education Subcommittee.

“Who knows if I’m going to be allowed to even darken the doorway of an education committee,” he said, noting it all comes down to how House Democratic leader — and likely new speaker —Tina Kotek chooses to work with Republicans.

For his part, Matthews noted he hopes the Republicans don’t become a disgruntled minority.

“Politics is not a spectator sport,” Matthews said. “We need to include the other side in everything we do.”

The Democrats still need Republicans on such vital issues as streamlining state’s finances, reducing prison costs and fully funding education, Matthews said.

“I really hope the Republicans don’t leave the balancing of the budget to us alone, or the costs of incarceration to us alone,” he said.

He added that both parties have helped East County by cooperating on efforts to fund anti-gang efforts and create a more business friendly climate.

Democrat Chris Gorsek won the race for House District 49, defeating incumbent Rep. Matthew Wand, a Republican. Gorsek, a Mt. Hood Community College instructor, said he’s interested in keeping alive the spirit of bipartisanship that marked the last session.

He noted voters with whom he spoke during the campaign expressed frustration with the partisan bickering that has marked national politics, and don’t want Oregon’s politicians to emulate such behavior.

In particular, he said both sides in Oregon’s new House could work on assisting small businesses by reducing or eliminating government fees and cooperating on education issues.

“I think you can find good hardworking well meaning people on both sides of the aisle,” he said.