If the major news outlets are to be believed, Oregon might not be a good place to look for examples of bipartisan problem-solving. Portland is often portrayed, fairly or unfairly, as a seemingly permanent battleground between the Proud Boys and Antifa. The forests have seen regular stand-offs between loggers and conservationists. Can problems get solved in such a place?
Yes! Last week, the most sweeping changes to Oregon’s forestry regulations in 50 years were signed into law after a bipartisan 22-5 vote in the State Senate and a bipartisan 43-15 in the State House.
The legislation required old enemies, the timber industry and conservation groups, to work together. They found a way to strike a balance between protecting the health of their forests and creating jobs and economic growth in rural communities. Why and how did they do it?
Why? When they started, the two sides were gearing up for a war of competing ballot measures. Six were filed by one side, three more by the other side. Both sides expected huge expenses in dealing with voter campaigns, court fights, and potential gridlock. Both sides concluded that negotiating would be the less expensive option.
How? Several factors seemed to contribute.
- The state governor was willing to help broker a deal instead of exploiting the situation.
- The deal involved most key stakeholders, including 13 groups from each side.
- An accord was reached to hash things out before any legislation was drafted.
- An experienced mediator was hired to help both sides do that.
- Patience and persistence: it took ten months before a deal could be reached.
- The agreement established a framework for future changes that gives all sides a voice in managing their forests and keeps the spirit of collaboration alive.
The Oregon case is a good example of how frustration with partisan warfare can give way to genuine problem-solving. Citizens and their elected representatives can apply this recipe anywhere, anytime.
Help spread the word: legislators can be problem-solvers when we help them do so.
Photo: Don Smurthwaite, BLM