Oregon Shows How Bipartisan Leadership Can Work

Control of the New York State Senate has been a bitter fight the past several years. With the number of Democratic and Republican seats being one close, control of the Senate has shifted by buying off individual legislators.

After the 2010 elections in Oregon, the state legislature ended in a 30 to 30 tie between Democratic and Republican legislators. Instead of engaging in the process of buying off a legislator to defect from their party, Oregon decided in a unanimous vote to have co-speakers in charge of the legislature.

Prior to the election Democratic leader Arnie Roblan and Republican leader Bruce Hanna were not close allies and from very different backgrounds. Roblan, age 64, has spent his entire career in the public sector, working first as a teacher and then as a principal before retiring in 2004 and running successfully for a seat in the Legislature. Hanna, age 52, is an entrepreneur and currently the owner of a Coca-Cola bottling company and a vending service company.

As reported in a Governing.com article:

“Nevertheless, the two leaders negotiated a clear set of rules that would govern House operations. They also made a commitment to sit down together to solve problems — and to stay seated until both sides had a solution they could agree on.”

The beginning, says Hanna, was “tough.” But the two legislative sessions presided over by co-speakers Roblan and Hanna rank as among the most productive in Oregon’s history, with balanced budgets, a sweeping health reform overhaul, state and congressional redistricting, and a successful school reform package.

“[W]hen you don’t give a credible voice to the minority, it creates real animosity,” says Roblan. “There are always opportunities, even in the majority, to seek out and try to listen carefully to what they are really wanting.” “People now expect us to move forward,” says Hanna. Before the 2010 election, working together was a surprise. “Now, it’s an expectation.”

Wow two elected leaders acting like adults and working together what a concept! The co-leaders alternate every day as to who presides over legislative sessions and they worked out who got to sit in the speaker’s office. Roblan agreed that Hanna could occupy the speaker’s office and stated in a news account “I have no ego in place, so it’s easy” and noted that his office across the hall is a shorter walk to his caucus meetings.

Bipartisan leadership of the Oregon Legislature on a daily basis worked by:

– Alternating every day which leader presided over legislative sessions.

– Democrats, who control the governor’s office and the state Senate, can have a bill stuck in committee discharged to the floor if they can get 31 members to sign a petition.

– Republicans get some additional ability to block legislation. Policy committees will have a co-chair from each party, but a single co-chair can block a hearing or work session on a bill, unless a majority containing at least two members from each party agrees to move it forward.

Roblan and Hanna have been recognized by government groups across the state and country for their ability to work together. Heck in Buffalo and Erie County New York, we can’t get members of the same political party to work together, let alone working together across party lines.


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Ami Wazlawik

This is a great example of the kind of bipartisan leadership that we need at local, state, and (especially) the national level. Thanks for the post!