PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The first test of whether an evenly divided Oregon House of Representatives can get anything done is already under way.
The latest election results trickling in Thursday showed that Republicans and Democrats will each have 30 seats in the state House. Lawmakers met with their caucuses on Wednesday and Thursday to map their priorities and discuss how to function in a tied body.
In a statehouse structured to rely on a majority party wielding significant power, Oregon lawmakers will have to create a power-sharing agreement in which neither party has more control than the other.
It could be the prescription for bipartisan agreement -- no bill can pass without support from both parties. But if lawmakers can't agree, it will be closer to a recipe for disaster.
With a projected $3 billion deficit over the next two-year budget period, the stakes are high. But current Speaker Dave Hunt was optimistic Thursday.
I actually think it's going to be really very constructive, almost amazingly so based on the conversation so far, said Hunt, a Democrat.
Hunt said a bipartisan committee of eight to 10 lawmakers will hammer out details of the arrangement. He said he hopes to have it done by Christmas but added that he hasn't yet discussed the goal with Republicans.
The committee will have to decide on leaders, committee chairs and the makeup of the House portion of the joint Ways and Means budget committee.
While the Oregon House has never been tied, lawmakers don't have to look far for guidance. The state Senate was evenly split in 2003. Nationally, at least one state has had a tied legislative chamber every year since 1966, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, which tracks statehouse elections.
Under the Oregon Senate agreement, lawmakers chose a Democratic president but gave expanded power to the Republican leader. A Democrat was named the Senate co-chair of Ways and Means, but Republicans chaired three subcommittees.
Democratic Senate President Peter Courtney, who rose to the Senate's top post as part of that brokered 2003 deal, said he still marvels at how well the parties worked together that year.
If it's been done once it can be done again, Courtney said Thursday. Legislators can rise to the occasion. Individuals can do incredible things if they set themselves to it.
But if they fail, he warned, it could lead to much more than gridlock. It could lead to anarchy.
Key to the calculus could be moderate Republican Reps. Bob Jenson and Greg Smith, who broke with their party on a controversial tax hike proposal backed by Democrats in 2009. Both later survived tough primary challenges in their Eastern Oregon districts.
Neither Jenson nor Smith returned calls for comment Thursday.
Democrats will control the Senate by one vote, and incoming Gov. John Kitzhaber is also a Democrat.
The House could use a variety of strategies to pass legislation in a tied body. They can craft proposals that are acceptable to a majority from both caucuses and approve them by wide margins. Or one party could try to pass a bill by picking off one member of the opposite party to yield a slim 31-29 vote.
But regardless of the strategy, controversial ideas will face a tough road. Social issues like abortion and immigration are probably out of the picture, as are ideas that would cost money.
Both parties have some work to do, said Nick Smith, a spokesman for House Republicans. But I think everybody understands the stakes, everybody understands the problems with the economy and the budget -- especially coming off an election. Everybody is eager to tackle these issues.