Currie: Walkout takes page from segregationists
The death of legislation to address climate change due to a walkout by GOP members of the Oregon Senate, which denied that body a quorum, is deeply disheartening. Addressing climate change is the most pressing moral issue of our time.
As a minister in the United Church of Christ, I take Jesus' admonition seriously that we free people from oppression. Slavery and Jim Crow are obvious examples of oppression. Climate change is as well. Without taking steps to address climate change, we sentence young people today to a painful and challenging existence.
In undertaking their walkout, the GOP thwarted the will of the voters. By large majorities, Oregon voters sent to Salem representatives who promised to back legislation similar in form to House Bill 2020, the cap-and-trade bill. In effect, the GOP used a filibuster.
In most respects, filibusters are anti-democratic. "In the 20th century, the filibuster enabled Southern segregationists to block anti-lynching laws and delay civil-rights legislation. This millennium, it enabled nativists to block a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers," Eric Levitz wrote in a recent piece for New York magazine on the use of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate.
Oregon voters in 2018 gave Democrats supermajorities in both the House and Senate, along with the governor's office. The only way the GOP can influence legislation, besides coalition building and compromise, is to deny a quorum.
Under Oregon law, the governor is empowered to compel members of the Legislature to return to work with the help of Oregon State Police. This led Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, in his best segregationist imitation, to threaten the police with gun violence if they attempted to arrest him. Such comments demand his resignation or expulsion from the Senate.
Democrats in Oregon also staged a walkout when in the minority several years back to protect low-income and minority voters from a GOP redistricting scheme that would have diluted their influence on elections. Unlike their GOP counterparts, however, they didn't leave the state to avoid Oregon State Police. The Oregon GOP senators decamped for Idaho.
There is a clear moral difference between staging a protest to protect underrepresented communities versus the coal industry or oil and gas. The reality of climate change is a responsibility we must accept and address. We own this crisis.
"Global warming may seem like a distended morality tale playing out over several centuries and inflicting a kind of Old Testament retribution on the great-great-grandchildren of those responsible," David Wallace-Wells writes in "The Uninhabitable Earth," his recent book. "But the majority of (carbon) burning has come since the premiere of 'Seinfeld.' Since the end of World War II, the figure is about 85 percent. The story of the industrial world's kamikaze mission is the story of a single lifetime — the planet brought from seeming stability to the brink of catastrophe in the years between a baptism or bar mitzvah and a funeral."
As the administration of President Donald Trump works tirelessly to undermine efforts to address this global crisis, it becomes more critical for states to do whatever possible to turn the tide. Instead, GOP lawmakers and activists deny the reality of climate change, work to undermine solutions, and take advantage of people, such as the #TimberUnity community in Oregon, by telling them that climate change solutions are aimed at hurting their communities (as if growing wildfire seasons won't).
GOP leaders have taken the populist playbook written by individuals like George Wallace into the social media age, pitting rural and urban Oregonians against one another for short-term political gain.
It would be nice and tidy to simply blame the GOP for this mess, but that wouldn't be entirely fair. Former state Rep. Jules Bailey tweeted that too often progressive Democrats have failed to prioritize the environment. Three Democratic members of the Oregon Senate opposed HB 2020, enough to doom the legislation. Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney has long been an obstacle to progress on this issue.
Regardless, Oregon Senate Republicans employ the tactics of segregationists, using the power of the minority to block efforts to address the common good. Unable to win elections, the party will do anything to stop efforts to address climate change, no matter the cost to future generations.
We must all join young people, like those involved in the Climate Strike movement, to change the reality of our time. House Speaker Tina Kotek has said that she is not "giving up on passing strong climate legislation this session, and I will not lose hope." Let's hope she is correct. We are running out of time.
The Rev. Chuck Currie, a United Church of Christ minister, is director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality and university chaplain at Pacific University. Opinions expressed here are his own.
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