A divisive power struggle

If anyone needed more evidence of the stress induced by the state of Oregon's budget problems, they need look no further than the tiff that has erupted between two Democratic legislators and the Medford chamber of commerce. And if anyone needed more evidence of the need for the two sides to work together, they need look no further than the state budget problems.

The squabble went public last week with the release of a letter from state Rep. Peter Buckley to The Chamber of Medford/Jackson County in which he took strong exception to the business group's approach in its lobbying and political stances.

In short, Buckley said the chamber had been intransigent and consistently difficult to work with. He was joined in that sentiment by state Sen. Alan Bates, like Buckley a legislator from Ashland. The chamber, represented primarily by chamber executive Brad Hicks, responded with its own blast, saying Buckley had twisted the group's words and intentions and misrepresented the chamber's position and approach on various issues.

It seems clear what's at the heart of this issue: A brutal budget season in Salem led to proposals for tax increases that the chamber and other business organizations say puts an unfair burden on businesses. The pro-business groups are part of a coalition working to put those tax increases to a statewide vote in hopes of overturning it.

For Buckley, co-chair of the Legislature's Ways and Means Committee, the effort to overturn the tax increases is practically a personal affront in the wake of the long and painful work he went through in trying to protect vital state services with too few dollars.

This is not a time for that plaintiff question, "Can't we all just get along?" Instead the dispute should prompt a demand that we all must get along if Southern Oregon and the Rogue Valley are going to pull through these hard times in at least no worse shape than the rest of the state.

Both Buckley and Bates, who has been Senate majority whip for two sessions, are in positions of power in the Legislature. The Medford chamber includes in its membership many of the movers and shakers of the Rogue Valley, both in economic terms and in community involvement. These are forces that need to work in concert, not opposition, with each other.

To do that, both sides need to step back from the barricades a bit. They already have shown they can work together on issues like the Higher Education Center in Medford and the transportation funding package approved in the spring session. While both sides are feeling a bit burned by the experience, it's obvious there is respect beneath the surface, if not agreement on the issues.

When it comes to the issues, each side should recognize it alone does not hold claim to some indisputable truth, while the other side is wrong on all things. The chamber could acknowledge that proper funding for schools, police, courts and, yes, social services, is important to the vitality of a state and its businesses. The Democratic legislators could acknowledge, in actions as well as words, that business is facing challenges unlike any in recent memory and offer hope for beleaguered employers.

Both sides need to reach for some middle ground so as not to fracture whatever political pull the region has in Salem. They need to continue to work together for their own benefit and for the benefit of Southern Oregon.

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