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State's Democrats settle in, set goals.

Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

SALEM - The historic nature of the Democrats' newfound, one-party control of the state wasn't lost on those who arrived at the Capitol Wednesday with what they saw as a mandate to lead and a responsibility to stay in the electorate's good graces.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski took in the new view of Oregon's altered political landscape with a broad smile during a Capitol news conference. He's set to start his second term with a Legislature in Democratic control, an economy that's humming along and voter rejection of ballot measures that could have forced cuts in taxes and spending.

He called this a time of opportunity for Oregon.

`And I think the mantra should be, `Don't miss the opportunity,' ' the governor said. "Don't let the gridlock and the partisanship and everything that comes into this building actually cause us to lose this opportunity."

Voters on Tuesday reversed the Republicans' 33-27 majority in the House, giving the Democrats at least 31 seats and possibly 32, depending on whether House Speaker Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, loses her narrow edge in her too-close-to-call district east of Portland.

Two Lane County House seats were central to the Republicans' loss of the House. Northwest Eugene Republican Debi Farr was unseated by Democrat Chris Edwards in House District 14. And coastal Rep. Alan Brown lost to Jean Cowan in House District 10, which encompasses much of western Lane County.

Meanwhile, the voters retained Gov. Ted Kulongoski, giving him a bare majority in a five-candidate race and a winning margin of 7 percentage points against Republican challenger Ron Saxton.

And the Senate kept its current makeup, with 17 majority Democrats, 11 Republicans and two independents.

It's been 16 years since a single party, then the Democrats as well, controlled the House and Senate, and had one of their own in the governor's office.

It's a power-position the Democrats have held only on six stretches totalling 22 years in Oregon's 147 years of statehood.

As Democrats took their first day to settle in to power, they acknowledged that they'll have to balance their desire to unleash a pent-up agenda against the political reality that a more measured, incremental approach to health care, education and other issues could deliver more success - both in solving problems and staying in power.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said his party's members will have to overcome one of their natural tendencies as Democrats to "try to save the world in 24 hours."

"We can't get crazy," he said. "Just because you've got the majority doesn't mean you can abuse that power."

Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli of John Day said he appreciates such a sentiment, but had doubts that Democrats were capable of exercising the restraint required to say no to their more uncompromising members and constituent groups that will lean on leaders next session for more far-reaching changes when it comes to social issues, state spending, environmental regulations and consumer protection.

Ferrioli, who entered the Legislature in 1997, a few years after his fellow Republicans' rise to power at the state and national levels, said he knew the difficulties ahead for the Legislature's new bosses.

"It would be uncharacteristic for a party in ascendancy to show any sort of restraint or moderation. I know we didn't," he said. "We weren't elected, we were anointed. And in that victory was the seeds of our defeat because it led to arrogance and stupidity, a lack of cooperation and personal agendas."

House Democratic Leader Jeff Merkley, who's positioned to become the new House speaker, said his caucus was prepared to lead by sticking to the agenda it campaigned on. That includes expanding health care for uninsured children, ensuring a 175-day school year, cracking down on Internet predators and jump-starting biofuels energy.

The Portland lawmaker said the goal for his caucus was to swing the mood of the next session away from one in which the session is a continuation of a rancorous campaign "to one where you work hard to put the campaigns behind you and get to work on the issues."

He said Democrats had no plans for higher taxes other than those advocated by Kulongoski during his campaign.

Any such discussion would require bipartisan cooperation, he said, given that the Oregon Constitution requires super-majorities of 36 votes in the House and 18 in the Senate - both in excess of the Democrats' majorities.

Kulongoski said he would make education a top priority, pushing his idea for an "education enterprise" that automatically receives at least 61 percent of the general fund and a 10 percent bump each biennium.

He also vowed to press ahead with his plans to expand early childhood education through an increase in the minimum tax paid by corporations, which currently is $10, along with the cancelation of the corporate "kicker" tax credit so the money can go into a rainy-day fund.

Kulongoski's other proposals that call for increased taxes are an 84.5 cents-per-pack cigarette tax increase for near-universal health coverage of children and a surcharge on auto insurance to add state police and give them a dedicated revenue source.

Kulongoski said he didn't think these tax increases should run into trouble, since most already had been passed by recent legislatures before they were referred to the ballot and rejected in the form of 2004's Measure 30.

Beyond those tax proposals, would the governor entertain others sent to him by the newly Democratic Legislature?

"If they've got an idea and they think it's meritorious, I'll look at it," he said. "But no one has talked to me about anything."

Did the Democrats' big day in Oregon and nationwide leave you delighted or dejected? Give us your take at www.registerguard.com/talk

DEMS' AGENDA Democrats laid out their agendas during the campaign. Find the details on the Web. House Democrats: roadmapfororegon.com Senate Democrats: sdlf.net Gov. Ted Kulongoski: tedforgov.com
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Title Annotation:Politics
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 9, 2006
Words:983
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