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November 8th, 2006 Brittany Schaeffer | News Stories
 

Dear Legislator

The issues you ignored this election but can't ignore in the 2007 Legislature.

     
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Dear Legislator-Elect,

Before Tuesday's election, you and many of your colleagues-to-be talked a lot about sex and unethical behavior. That is, in reference to your opponents.

Sure, everyone expects mudslinging during campaigns. Problem is, no matter whether Democrats or Republicans prevailed Tuesday night (go to wweek.com for the latest election results, as well as dispatches from election-night parties), it doesn't have much to do with what you're really going to work on in Salem next year.

Take but one nasty race to see how far afield this election went: the free-for-all between Republican House Speaker Karen Minnis and Democrat Rob Brading in east Multnomah County. No matter which candidate won, it's a safe bet that the top 1,000 issues facing the 2007 Legislature won't include Minnis' false accusations that Brading "supported" porn and engaged in "unethical and immoral" conduct, or Democrats' ridiculous counter that sought to compare Minnis with U.S. House Republicans covering up for Rep. Mark Foley, who's accused of harassing underage pages.

To be fair, some of you stuck to actual issues, like curbing special-interest groups and combating illegal immigration. But here are some less "hot button" yet equally important issues to bone up on before the legislative session begins in January:

Transportation gridlock, and how to deal with it (more public transportation or more roads), didn't come up much on the campaign trail but is expected to be a key topic in the Legislature.

"There's been a ton of problems on the road," says Larry George, a Republican Senate candidate in a heavily GOP district. "If you've driven to the beach recently, you know that it's just gridlock through Newberg."

While George's District 13 includes parts of commuter-heavy Washington, Clackamas and Yamhill counties, legislators agree that transportation is a major concern statewide.

"I've heard from a number of people who are very interested in an overall transportation package, who want to get money to fix streets, and money for public transportation," says Democratic Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown of Northeast Portland. "When it takes two hours to get home from Salem, that is unacceptable."

Other solutions sure to get batted around in Salem are extending a Washington County commuter-rail line to Salem and toll roads, says Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland).

Identity theft and land-use laws will also be critical issues during the upcoming session, as well as an overhaul of the foster-care system, legislators say.

"One of [the] major things we're trying to wrestle with is the foster-care system," says Brown. "We're working to reduce placements, reduce attorney caseloads and have better outcomes."

Funding higher education will be another hot topic, say legislators.

And in terms of health care, prescription and healthcare costs, as well as how to help the uninsured, have been debated extensively. But the dwindling workforce of health professionals is a less-discussed issue that Greenlick says needs legislative focus.

"The whole question of healthcare manpower, and how we get ready for an aging population, is going to be important," says Greenlick. "We have a crumbling system right now without enough nurses, doctors, physiotherapists and nurses' assistants."

Fixing roadways and foster care may not be so rabble-rousing as talking about building a wall around Oregon or your former opponent's so-called proclivity for porn, but it's time to get down to business, candidate-elect. We'll be watching.

Good luck, WW

 
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