Use supermajorities with care, Democrats

There were few surprises in Tuesday’s election results, but one outcome locally could have wide-ranging repercussions when the 2019 Legislature convenes in January for a budget-writing session.

Incumbents generally fared well at the Jackson County and Medford City Hall levels, Medford’s open House District 6 seat stayed Republican with Kim Wallan winning the right to succeed retiring Rep. Sal Esquivel, and Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, swept to easy re-election in strongly Democratic House District 5. Democrat Jeff Golden prevailed in the race for Senate District 3 more easily than might have been expected given that swing district’s history, and that outcome, coupled with House seats flipping upstate, give Democrats a three-fifths supermajority in both houses of the Legislature for the first time since 2009.

That, coupled with Democrat Kate Brown’s re-election as governor, means the Democrats can, if they choose, raise taxes without a single Republican vote.

That may seem like a good thing to those who want to see Oregon’s government do a better job of funding public education, health care and other key government services. But it’s a power the majority party would be wise to use sparingly, because it could have negative consequences. After all, it was Oregon voters themselves who put the three-fifths majority requirement in the state Constitution in the first place.

Most voters at the local level tend to choose candidates for their personal characteristics, their positions on specific issues and their ability to represent their districts, not to further some statewide strategy to set tax rates with impunity. Marking a ballot for a Democrat doesn’t necessarily mean a voter wants to see his or her own taxes raised without debate and despite opposition.

There certainly are Democrats who have their eye on the big prize, but we suspect there are many voters — Democrats, independents and even a few Republicans — who may have voted for Democrats but want to see bipartisan solutions to the state’s problems.

Wise legislative leaders know this. They also know that Oregon’s initiative and referendum laws mean any tax increase enacted by the Legislature can be overturned by the people — and there are plenty of powerful interests ready and willing to bankroll such an effort.

So go to Salem, Democrats, and enjoy your new supermajorities. But don’t assume that control gives you the freedom to trample over the minority party every step of the way.

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