A year of change coming.
Last year, voters made decisions. This year, they get to live with the results. At both the national and local levels, people confronted clear choices among leaders. After this month's round of inaugurations, the consequences of those choices will come into focus - and in most cases, the new leaders will find their ambitions constrained by scarce resources.
Eugene will have a realigned city government, with former Democratic legislator Kitty Piercy as mayor and a strengthened liberal bloc on the City Council. This will be a departure from past experience. Generally, Eugene mayors have led from slightly right of center, at least by local standards, with the support of four or five councilors.
The transition at City Hall has created high expectations among people who identify themselves as progressives, many of whom feel they've been shut out of municipal decision-making for years, if not forever. It is feeding apprehensions among more conservative constituencies, who are accustomed to having the mayor and council act as a political buffer against an activist tax, regulatory and land-use agenda.
As the new year unfolds, it's likely that those who have invested high hopes in Piercy and the new council will be disappointed, and those who are most fearful will discover that their concerns were exaggerated. City government is subject to financial, political and legal realities that cannot be changed by ideology. Piercy won't be able to transform Eugene into Ecotopia with the wave of a hand, nor will she drive every business out of town.
In most respects, the city's affairs will be conducted as they always have been, with problems being addressed by the application of common sense rather than a political philosophy.
While attention has been focused on Eugene's change of political leadership, Lane County is headed for an equally significant transition. With the election of Faye Stewart, the five-member Board of Commissioners has gained a conservative majority. The political alignments on the commission have been blurred in recent years by weak or middle-of-the-road representation in Stewart's East Lane district. Stewart promises to be the strongest commissioner from that district since Bill Rogers retired 14 years ago. This single change could give Lane County's leadership a needed shot of energy.
As with Eugene, however, most decisions confronting Lane County hinge less on leaders' political views than on the harsh realities of limited finances. The differing priorities of urban and rural, or liberal and conservative, commissioners become irrelevant if the county lacks the money to support either.
State government will undergo a significant change when Democrats take control of the Oregon Senate - the first time the party has had an outright majority in either legislative chamber in a dozen years. Yet Gov. Ted Kulongoski, also a Democrat, has proposed a budget based on the Republican no-new-taxes theme. Democrats may have gained control of two power centers in state government, only to find that their options, like those of their local counterparts, are tightly restricted.
Voters decided against new leadership at the national level - yet the beginning of a second presidential term is potentially a period of rapid change. President George W. Bush will attempt to move quickly to enact the pillars of his "ownership society," including private Social Security accounts, medical savings accounts and permanent tax cuts. The first months of his second administration will also provide an indication of whether Iraq's descent into violence can be arrested. Even with a compliant Congress, however, Bush will have to pay attention to the nation's record budget deficits.
All these changes follow from choices the voters made last year. The choices, from the Eugene City Council to the presidency, were stark. Yet all leaders must deal with stubborn facts and unvarying realities, which ensures a degree of continuity from one administration to the next. The practical requirements of government restrain the effects of political transitions, narrowing the grounds for either hope or fear.
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|Title Annotation:||Editorials; Yet leaders' options will be limited in 2005|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2005|
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