My View: Less drama, more leadership at State Capitol
Three observations on the GOP walkout of the Legislature to block the passage of a carbon-reduction bill: This is a bad-faith gambit by the Republicans; elections matter; and Democrats need to stop pretending they haven't had their fair share of walkouts.
First, on bad-faith lawmaking: I don't particularly mind the walkout. When you're a superminority — and the GOP is that in both chambers of the Oregon Legislature — then you have few tools at your disposal. The walkout is one of them.
In 2019, the Senate GOP walked out twice. Both times, they were bluffing with a pair of deuces in their hands. Both times, the Dems folded. (The second time, Senate President Peter Courtney was forced to admit that it was he who was bluffing; he didn't have enough votes for a cap-and-trade bill within his caucus!)
As a result, the GOP got statewide and nationwide media attention, raised funds, and energized portions of their base.
Of course, they were going to walkout in 2020. As the Tribune wrote in a presession editorial: It was a question of "when," not "if."
No, the bad faith part is where the Republicans met after the 2019 session and before the 2020 session and helped craft amendments for the new bill to make it more palatable for their side.
The new bill gives special treatment to natural gas wholesalers. It expands rebate eligibility. It increases rebate amounts. It drops the expected rate impacts in the year 2022 from 12% of households in last year's bill to 7% this year. It drops the expected impacts for commercial customers from 14% to 6%, and for industrial customers from 30% to 14%.
The GOP negotiated all those amendments, knowing full well they intended to kill the bill via a walkout. There is no version of cap-and-trade that would energize the base, nor become a fundraising gold mine.
If Republicans in the interim had said, "No thanks, no amendments are necessary. We're walking out," that at least would have been honest.
Elections matter: Oregonians go to the polls to elect members of the House and Senate. I've covered the Legislature since the 1990s. Sometimes the GOP has the majority. And when they do, their agenda rules. Sometimes Democrats do — same story. Sometimes the divide is narrow, or chambers are split, and compromise is the rule of the day.
Right now, Democrats have supermajorities: that is, enough votes in both chambers to pass revenue bills. In the House, the Dems outnumber the GOP 38-to-22. In the Senate, it's 18-to-12.
That's because most voters in the state of Oregon vote Democratic.
Voters also elect five statewide offices: Governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer and labor commissioner (also U.S. senators). Since 2002, only one Republican has mustered enough votes statewide to win. Every other statewide seat for nearly two decades has gone to Dems.
Why? Once again, because most voters in the state of Oregon vote Democratic.
And whining about the Dems "trying to force their policies on us" is an excellent way for the GOP leadership to avoid taking the blame for losing so often.
"Minority" isn't the same as "dead." In the mid-2000s, as a reporter, I remember seeing Rep. Michael Dembrow, a Democrat in the minority party, try to pass a "Dream Act" bill to support immigrant students whose parents brought them to the United States illegally. Dembrow's bill failed. I walked up to him afterward and said, "Tough loss."
He looked at me like I'm dim and said, "No. I always knew I was losing this session. I'll lose again in two years but by a lower margin. No, I'm going to build my coalition, make my case, and win this one in four to six years."
And he did.
That's how you govern when you're not in the majority.
Republican Rep. Rich Vial served one term in the seat that serves Sherwood and King City. In 2017, when I was covering the most important bill of the year — the omnibus transportation package — I noticed Vial going to meeting after meeting — even though he wasn't on that committee.
I saw him at a marathon Saturday session in Salem. He was seated in the back with us journalists and the lobbyists. "Isn't this stuff interesting?" he asked.
And he meant it.
A freshman. In the minority. But with his sleeves rolled up, in the fray, making his value known to both parties.
That's how you govern when you're not in the majority.
Finally, on the Democratic hand-wringing over the walkout. Oh, knock it off. In 2001, House Democrats walked out over redistricting. The Democratic leader in the Senate that year: Sen. Kate Brown.
In 1997, Senate Dems walked out for one day in protest of the Republican majority declining to name a recipient of the Frank Roberts award.
In 1971, Senate Dems walked out to block an attempt by Republicans to reverse a vote that would grant 18-year-olds the right to vote in state elections. That's how Oregon granted 18-year-olds the right to vote ahead of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Walkouts are more powerful now, because of the new governance structure, with yearly sessions, which include mandatory end dates. That put real teeth in the walkout. The GOP didn't make the rules on the end-dates for sessions, they just play the new rules like a fiddle.
Dems need to stop pretending they haven't used the trick.
The GOP needs to stop pretending to negotiate amendments for a bill they wish with all their hearts to kill.
And members of the minority party have to learn to govern smartly, build coalitions, tell the base the truth and run better candidates with winning strategies.
Oregon voters are smart.
Both sides: Start treating them like it.
Dana Haynes in the managing editor of the Portland Tribune.
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