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June 19th, 2002 John Schrag | News Stories
 

From the Capitol to Kabul

     
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Dreams of a short special legislative session in Salem turned to nightmares last Friday when it became obvious that rival factions in the House Republican caucus had brought tax proposals to a whimpering halt. There was some comfort, however, in the fact that Oregon isn't the only place where the democratic process is being tested. In fact, in some ways, the rumors leaking out of the GOP caucus meetings were eerily similar to reports from the loya jirga (grand council) convened in Afghanistan, which was unable to finish its work in its allotted six days.

 

GOP CAUCUS LOYA JIRGA
NUMBER OF MEMBERS 32 1,600
CHIEF TASK

Balance the state budget without alienating anti-tax voters, the party's dominant activist group.

Form a new national government without alienating Pashtuns, the country's largest ethnic group.

WHERE THEY MEET Behind closed doors in an air-conditioned state Capitol office in Salem. Behind closed flaps in an air-conditioned tent in Kabul.
WHO'S IN CHARGE House speaker Mark Simmons, whose roots are in Eastern Oregon. Interim leader Hamid Karzai, whose ties are to Western leaders.
MAIN POINT OF CONTENTION

Simmons must deal with members who think he isn't proposing deep enough cuts in state services.

Karzai must deal with members who think he's proposing too much power for Tajik-led northerners.
BIG BLOWUP On Friday, shortly after budget staffers briefed the caucus, Rep. Dan Doyle, a no-tax attack dog from Salem, nearly came to blows with Rep. Ben Westlund, a pro-taxer from Bend. On Monday, shortly after Karzai addressed the council, Pashtuns in the back of the tent began chanting, "Out with the dog! Out with the dog!"
WHERE THINGS STAND After spending all of Friday in caucus, Simmons finally persuaded nearly a dozen fellow Republicans to support a hike in the cigarette tax and a delay in implementing the full income-tax break approved by voters in 2000. After meeting all day Sunday, the council adjourned in chaos, unable to decide how to elect an interim assembly to help Karzai govern until elections are held in 2004.
WHAT'S NEXT Lawmakers are digging in for at least another week in Salem. As WW went to press, the Senate had not yet agreed to the House tax hikes, let alone begun looking at spending cuts. Council members will probably extend the session. As WW went to press, the council had still failed to agree on how to set up an interim assembly, let alone fill key ministry positions.
 
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