Rep. Marty Wilde Archive photo
I've been distressed to hear from people who believe that the Oregon Legislature does not hear and consider their perspectives.
It has been the honor of my life to represent Oregonians in their legislature. I'm proud that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle generally treat each other and the public with respect. I'd like to tell you about some of the traditions and rules that surround that responsibility and what I see from my colleagues every day.
The Oregon Constitution protects legislators from liability for anything said on the floor of either of the Chambers. With that privilege comes a great responsibility to civility.
Indeed, the only restriction on our speech in our rules is that we must not impugn the motives of our fellow representatives. That keeps us from the kind of name-calling that happens all too often in the public sphere.
But civility goes beyond the bare rules. Almost every legislator participates in the lounge. In that modest space we eat together, get to know each other and rarely talk business.
Some traditions go beyond that. While there's no rule written down, unofficially, freshmen get a small district-specific request during their first session. This is coupled with a responsibility to use it in a non-partisan manner in the public interest.
It's a small way of helping freshmen of both parties catch up with incumbents more informed by experience.
This focus on civility has benefits for the people and their business. I have never seen anyone's input dismissed merely because of their party or position on an unrelated issue. We often debate matters with great deference and deliberation, and rudeness results in a quick sanction.
The responsibility of an elected official in any representative democracy is first to listen.
Almost everyone takes that seriously. In my office, we meet with every constituent who asks, and respond to every constituent communication. My staff receives your tax dollars as salary and I see their most important job as helping me communicate with you. Facilitating peaceful, constructive communication can be a challenge when people bring their passionate positions on important issues. I'm lucky to have great staff.
Of course, being heard does not necessarily mean prevailing. ”Representative democracy” has two constituent terms, and no one can perfectly represent the conflicting viewpoints of everyone in their district. Democracy means that I will inevitably disappoint some of my constituents with my votes and the causes I champion.
By voting for me and my platform of education, health care and housing, my voters told me that they leaned toward those values over those of an unrestricted free market with lower taxation. My job is to represent them, while keeping an overall balance.
Nor do I always prevail, even as a member of the majority. My support for safe storage, healthy schools and climate legislation was not enough for those proposals to pass. It must be tough to serve in the minority, where such frustrations are certainly more frequent.
However, people should remember that more than 90% of floor votes last session were bipartisan. Conflict is the exception.
Most failures of civility occur outside of the Capitol. In this age of social media and instant reactions, we too often fail in our need to count to 10 and consider our words carefully.
”Miracle on the Hudson” pilot Chelsey Sullenberger commented on the dangers of this recently: ”This culture of cruelty is what drives decent people from public service, and what makes millions of Americans recoil from politics, and even from participating in our democracy.”
We do our best to keep the wolves of incivility outside of the Capitol so that all can participate in governing Oregon.
In sum, Oregonians should be proud of the civility demonstrated by their legislators toward each other and their constituents.
While we all fail to live up to our own high standards occasionally, these incidents are generally quickly remedied.
We live in a participatory democracy. Please come to the Capitol and lend your ideas on how to build Oregon's best future.
Rep. Marty Wilde (D-Eugene) is State Representative for House District 11, covering Creswell, Coburg, Brownsville, Harrisburg, Halsey, Marcola, parts of Eugene, Springfield and Pleasant Hill.