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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended September 17, 2000
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Sent on Mormon-News: 14Sep00

Summarized by Kent Larsen

Oregon's Smith-Wyden Political Friendship Celebrates 100th Weekly Luncheon

WASHINGTON, DC -- Those amazed at the cross-party friendship between Utah's conservative Senator and LDS Church member Orrin Hatch and Democratic Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, have yet to notice an even stranger friendship between another LDS Church member, Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and fellow Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). What makes the friendship strange is that the two were nearly bitter enemies as they battled each other for the seat of then-Senator Bob Packwood in a 1995 special election. That campaign was dominated by attack ads and outside pressures to make the election a referendum on national politics.

Wyden and Smith couldn't be more different. Wyden, 51, is Jewish and a liberal Portland democrat who led the Gray Panthers, a senior citizen's advocacy group, in Oregon before winning a seat in the US House of Representatives in 1980. In contrast, Smith, an LDS Church member, is a wealthy frozen-food entrepreneur and a conservative from rural eastern Oregon.

After Smith lost the 1995 battled with Wyden, Oregon's other Senator at the time, Mark Hatfield, decided to retire, and Smith ran successfully for his seat, making him Oregon's junior senator to Wyden. Instead of launching a series of endless quarrels and rivalries, the two met for breakfast two weeks after Smith's election. They managed to bury the hatchet, and actually hit it off to a degree. Soon they scheduled weekly luncheons to coordinate their efforts for the state in those areas where they could agree. They've now had more than 100 weekly luncheons.

Their cooperative efforts have showed up in what they've been able to accomplish. While Senators from the same state often cooperate on issues important to their constituents, Wyden and Smith have gone far beyond that. They hold "Town Hall Meetings," around Oregon together, explaining issues and getting feedback from constituents. They have issued joint press releases, helped each other with their annual agendas for oregonian issues, and , most importantly, they have stayed out of each other's politics.

They have even cooperated on non-oregonian issues when they can find common ground. Smith recently voted for a Medicare prescription drug spending bill proposed by Wyden. On oregonian issues they have made a strong team, getting highway and transit money for the state, salmon protection, school aid and confirmation of Federal judges in the state. They also teamed-up to oppose President Clinton's plan to designate Oregon's Steen Mountain as a monument, proposing an alternative designation instead.

While some observers claim that Oregon's voters forced the two to work together, both men also credit each other. "We were both always interested in working this way, but [because of the campaign] nobody believed it," Wyden said.

In Session: Congress
Washington Post pgA21 11Sep00 T2
By Helen Dewar: Washington Post Staff Writer


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