The man struck up a monologue with the Nose's seatmate, informing her that he was visiting from California. Holding up a copy of the city's daily rag, he then announced, "I see your legislature is just as screwed up as ours. They don't have enough money to keep schools open, but they want to build a baseball stadium."
Normally, the Nose would have been glad to join in a round of politician-pile-on. After all, the clowns in Salem have all but posted "kick me" signs on their lethargic backsides this year.
The longest session in history has been marked by partisan gridlock, backroom betrayals and a baseball bill that was twice magically brought back from death.
But it just so happened that the Nose had been attending some business in Salem that same morning and stopped by the Capitol to view the circus. While there, he chatted up a trusted longtime observer, hoping to get some good political punch lines for the weekend cookout.
Instead, he got an earful about how the 2003 Legislature has gotten a bad rap.
"Look," said the sage. "We're going to get out of here with adequate funding for schools, the Oregon Health Plan alive and some real reform of the state pension system. If you had told me that in January, I would have said you were crazy."
Sure, the Nose said, but what about the longest session in...
"What the hell is so magical about adjourning in July?" The Nose's companion barked. "Don't forget that these folks had to spend the first couple months balancing the current budget. This session, for all practical purposes, didn't start until March."
OK, the Nose said, but what about the partisan grid...
"Oh, come on," said the Nose's guide. "The Democrats and Republicans battle every session, it's just that in the past it was over how to spend new money. This session, they were looking at cuts. Big cuts. You have a group of legislators, mainly Republicans, who campaigned on a vow not to raise taxes. Then they got here and realized that the only way to keep their word was to slash services to people in their districts. To me, it's a wonder they were able to get out of here at all."
Unconvinced, the Nose saddled up to a veteran influence peddler, a guy who's usually as cynical as they come, and asked him to sum up the past eight months of the Salem follies.
Sure, he says, there are some self-important game- players down here, but, in general, people don't realize the sacrifices many lawmakers must make. No summer vacations. Nasty letters in the hometown newspaper. The expectation that they can
master everything from the nuances of general obligation bonds to the effects of herbicide runoff on amphibians.
All for a whopping $1,283 per month (plus an extra 85 bucks on days they're in session).
"Democracy is damn hard work," he told the Nose. "It's ineffective. It's expensive. It's dependent on people who can sometimes be selfish and petty. And, when you find a better system, give me a call."