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Partisanship punctuates lawmakers' opening day.

Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

SALEM - Lawmakers and the governor launched Oregon's new general assembly into uncertain waters Monday, pledging to work together but admitting that would be easier said than done.

As is customary, the convening of the Legislature was made up almost entirely of political ceremony and attempts at inspiring rhetoric. New members were sworn in and former officeholders were escorted ceremoniously into a joint session of the House.

Bagpipes wailed. Soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan were honored with a moment of silence.

But in keeping with another of the Capitol's opening-day traditions, partisan tensions rose swiftly to the surface.

Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who used the opening day's joint session to deliver his annual State of the State address, appeared to ruffle Republican feathers with his call for an anti-discrimination law protecting gays and lesbians and his criticism of the Bush administration's plans to weaken environmental protections for salmon and roadless forest lands.

House Republicans and Democrats sparred verbally over a rule change that gives the House speaker authority to fire that chamber's chief parliamentarian and administrator.

Republicans said it was in keeping with good business practices and was modeled after the way the U.S. House of Representatives hires and fires its chief clerk. Democrats accused Republicans of implicitly threatening to fire the chief clerk for giving parliamentary advice that the House speaker or the majority party doesn't want to hear.

The rule change passed on a party-line vote, with all the Republicans supporting it.

Still, while the Legislature kicked off its 73rd regular session with a few bouts of partisanship, much of the day was built around scripted words and choreographed acts of bipartisan cooperation.

Kulongoski, in his second State of the State speech, offered words meant to inspire cooperation. He said his wish for 2005 was that it would be "a year of genuine bipartisanship. That we would pledge to put people ahead of party, conciliation ahead of confrontation, and protecting our children ahead of protecting the status quo."

Many of his comments drew applause from his entire audience of lawmakers, some of Oregon's members of Congress, and other dignitaries and observers. But many Republicans in the chamber demonstrated their displeasure with some of Kulongoski's vows by refusing to clap or stand during ova- tions.

Kulongoski said he would introduce a bill adding sexual orientation to state laws that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

The governor's proposal could face rough going in the Republican-controlled House, where the GOP holds a 33-27 advantage. Such bills often have had substantial support in the past among Democrats, who have an 18-12 Senate majority.

"Do we really want to risk our future by turning our backs on the talent and drive of women, minorities, gays and lesbians, and our Native brothers and sisters?" he said.

``This is a moral challenge,'' Kulongoski said, ``because if we do not defend social justice, tolerance and diversity, then the progress we make on the economic front will be bought with compromised principles and a weakened human spirit. That is not a trade-off I can accept.''

House Majority Leader Wayne Scott, R-Canby, was among several conservatives in the audience who refused to applaud the governor's proposal. He explained later that he was not convinced such legal protections were necessary and was concerned that such legal language could amount to "special rights" for people because of their homosexuality.

"I don't think anyone should have protections above or beyond what anyone else has," he said.

Kulongoski said he was increasingly dismayed by the Bush administration's attempts to weaken environmental protections in the Northwest. He said he would take "a hard line" on the White House's biological opinion for the Columbia River, in which it had declared that hydroelectric dams are part of the natural environment and not up for consideration of removal to prevent the extinction of native salmon.

The administration also has called for weakening the protection of salmon, saying the government would no longer be responsible for halting extinction, but would have to simply prevent activities that hasten the species' demise.

Kulongoski said it was in the region's long-term economic interest to ensure the salmon's survival. He said Oregon would join a legal challenge to the Bush proposal, making it the first state to do so.

Glen Spain, Northwest regional director for Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, praised Kulongoski for his "very aggressive" reaction to the Bush administra- tion.

But many Republican lawmakers said it was inappropriate for the governor to inject such controversy into a speech during the feel-good ceremony of the Legislature's opening day.

Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, accused Kulongoski of reaching out "to the base of eco-radicalism to launch what is obviously his campaign for re-election."

`The governor indicated extreme hostility toward all the gains made by the Bush administration to create jobs, especially in rural communities," the Eastern Oregon lawmaker said. "We can't afford his efforts to kill our economic recovery."

CAPTION(S):

Gov. Ted Kulongoski, House Speaker Karen Minnis and members of the Oregon Court of Appeals use sign language Monday to applaud the Oregon School for the Deaf choir.
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Title Annotation:Legislature; The governor raises some hackles with proposals on gay rights and salmon
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 11, 2005
Words:860
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