Last week, with pledges for reconciliation and productivity, the Oregon legislature took its seats at the state capitol. Since they last piled into chambers, the Republican Party has taken stronger control of the federal government and, to an increasing degree, taken a firmer grip over the moral reins of the country, even threatening to shut down Oregon's voter-approved Death With Dignity Act.

Portland has also become the number one city for unemployment since last time the legislature met, and clinched the embarrassing title as the city sponsoring the shortest school year in the country.

In spite of these challenges and regardless of pledges by legislators, it remains doubtful that the current legislative body is up for the challenge of the most critical session in more than a decade. Many pundits predict this session will stall out in a stalemate between conservative representatives and the more liberal legislators from cities like Portland and Eugene.

"This is the biggest and most conservative [legislative body in a decade]," says Jefferson Smith, who directs the Portland-based Oregon Bus Project. Last fall members of the Bus Project knocked on more than 65,000 doors, trying to motivate young people to vote, and educating voters about social issues. Several of those workers have taken jobs as staff members for legislators.

Smith believes the Republican Party in Oregon--which controls both the senate and legislature--has continued to drift away from moderate ideals. He points to pressures from conservative and popular talk radio hosts like Lars Larson as significant influences.

"They are aware that if they shift too much to the middle, radio talk show hosts will get up their rear ends," explains Smith. "The tension [this session] is between those who think there should be more power to the powerful, and those who think that power should go to the powerless."

With a $300 million deficit in the state budget, Smith also points out that it is unlikely this session will produce any new social or groundbreaking programs. "Anything that costs money will probably be dead on arrival," he says frankly. (Smith points out that he remains optimistic about the future of Oregon, though.)

The deadline for new bills will be in mid-February. To find the email address for your representative and lobby for any bills, reference the legislature website,