Sen. Courtney: 'Potentially the bloodiest political day in Oregon's history'

Sen. Peter Courtney

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Oregon's business, union and political interests risk opening a permanent rift if they don't come together and negotiate a plan to withdraw contentious ballot measures slated for next year's election, Senate President Peter Courtney said Monday.

The Salem Democrat warned that "Oregon is on the verge of its own civil war" pitting the state's most powerful and wealthy interests against each other.

"While we may not physically kill one another, the consequences of next Nov. 8 could be our version of Antietam," Courtney said, referring to the bloody Civil War battle. "Potentially the bloodiest political day in Oregon's history."

A group backed largely by public-employee unions has proposed ballot measures to significantly increase taxes for corporations. Other groups are looking to raise the minimum wage.

Various business interests are considering ballot measures to weaken union rights or roll back restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.

The expensive fight would create "wounds that will be opened and never healed," Courtney told the annual Oregon Leadership Summit, which brings together business executives, lawmakers and lobbyists.

Courtney, who is Oregon's longest-serving legislative leader, is known for using fiery and dramatic language to spur action on the issues that concern him.

Rather than pursuing multi-million-dollar campaigns over ballot measures, Courtney encouraged interest groups to come up with compromise ideas that the Legislature could consider in the five-week session that begins in February.

Last year, then-Gov. John Kitzhaber convinced labor and business interests to stand down from similar contentious ballot fights they'd planned. Instead of a contentious election, Kitzhaber hoped to broker an ambitious reform of Oregon's volatile tax system, but he resigned amid ethics questions surrounding his fiancée's consulting work.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Tina Kotek said business officials need to concern themselves with the state's rapidly rising housing prices. Parents priced out of their rentals are forced to change their children's school, or endure a long commute to take them to and from campus, she said.

"Housing affordability is a headwind that we must take on," said Kotek, D-Portland. "Policy changes and public investments are important, but they will not solve this crisis on their own. We need the private sector."

RELATED: Gov. Kate Brown looks to focus on graduation rates with new position. (Her announcement during the Oregon Leadership Summit.)

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