Editorial: Bluffing, bungling made up legislative session
Remember all the way back to January, when a lot of Oregonians were worried that the Democrats' supermajorities in the House and Senate meant they might have unbridled power?
Turns out their worries were overstated.
In 1935, humorist Will Rogers wrote, "I am not a member of any organized party — I'm a Democrat." Eighty-four years later, the joke still works.
The "supermajority" label means Democrats in both chambers have enough votes to pass legislation raising revenue without the need for Republican assistance. The Dems also have the governorship, which could have led to naked displays of harshly partisan legislation. Instead, like the javelin thrower who wins the coin toss and elects to receive, we've watched a series of self-defeating bungles by the party in charge. The debacle over cap-and-trade legislation — which led GOP senators to flee the state for days — was the latest and most glaring example, but not the only one.
The Republican walkout was meant to stop Democrats from hammering through a bill to reduce carbon emissions in Oregon. The walkout is one of the few tools, albeit an overly melodramatic one, that the minority party can employ. You need 20 people on the floor for the Senate to convene. The Democrats have 18. Walking out means the Senate cannot conduct business, leaving an entire wing of the legislative branch of the government twiddling its fingers.
The thing to remember is: It was a bluff. The Republicans would have to come back. There were state agency budgets to pass and services to constituents that would go missing. The lawmakers were fined $500 for every day they missed. Plus, after the session ended on Sunday, the governor hda threatened to call an immediate special session, followed by another, and another, until they returned.
During that time, the GOP members would be losing money and would be perceived as hiding.
The walkout was dramatic. It was a strategy aimed at gaining media attention, not a strategy to win.
But after days of national and international headlines, Sen. Peter Courtney admitted that he didn't have the votes among his own party to pass the bill.
The entire "cap-and-trade" debate was a Potemkin Village — a ruse to make a hollow effort appear to be real.
It's unclear if the Senate Democrats ever had enough votes for this bill. Having spoken to insiders in Salem, we believe Courtney didn't. That means the entire thing was a debate about a bill that wasn't ever going anywhere. That's bad politicking. It makes the so-called supermajority appear to be feckless and faithless to the environmental supporters who got 'em there.
An environmental group had traveled to Salem to show support for Democrats and the cap-and-trade bill stood and turned their backs on the Senate president in a show of disdain when Courtney announced the bill was dead on arrival.
Before June, we thought the low point of the session for Senate Democrats was during the first walkout, when Democrats sacrificed bills on childhood immunizations and unsecured firearms in the home in order to secure the votes for an additional $1 billion into K-12 public schools per year.
The price tag for this Student Success Act now includes more measles and unsecured guns in students' homes.
Democrats are correct to take up the very real issues of climate change and reducing carbon emissions.
Rallies in front of the Capitol show there are strong emotions on all sides of this. We generally favor the Legislature doing its job and making laws, but by this time, the issue of cap-and-trade probably should go to the voters. Let both sides make the case.
Democrats: Courtney's fumble has given the opposition a lot of steam, which you'll have to overcome. We believe science is on the side of reducing carbon emissions. Make your best case. Trust that Oregonians are pretty smart and, more often than not, vote wisely.
As for future legislatures taking on climate change, for the foreseeable future, that ship has sailed. Either you have the votes to push gutsy legislation like this or you don't. This isn't higher math. If you don't have the votes, and you still make impassioned speeches and wring your hands, you can't very well expect anyone — opponents and allies alike — to ever take you seriously again.
Democrats: When you bungle the big stuff, you cede the high ground to ludicrous bumper-sticker clichés, such as comparing climate change legislation to "globalists' twisted agenda" — yes, that was a real quote from Kim Thatcher, who represents portions of Washington County in the Senate, and one of a handful of GOP senators who refused to return to Salem even after cap-and-trade was declared dead.
Democrats: The time may have come to consider a leadership change in the Senate.
Republicans: You've won on this issue, thanks to an own-goal by Courtney. You bluffed in May and Democrats folded and the anti-science, anti-vaccine movement won. You bluffed again and Oregon won't be addressing carbon emissions.
We can see the wheels spinning. You're now tempted to keep on bluffing next session, killing all future bills, including all those that were co-sponsored by Republicans or carried to the floor by them, as well as bills to run agencies.
Don't. When the legislature returns for its short session next year we hope, we pray, that everyone gets back to work. Take your wins, and your losses, do your job, and realize that you lucked out, bluffing with pocket deuces and raking in the pot twice.
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