Drama aside, legislative session productive
Democrats, who control both legislative chambers and the governor's office, arrived in Salem this year with an ambitious short list and, seemingly, the votes to get their way on four key issues.
They got big wins on a $2 billion business tax to fund K-12 education, tools to address the statewide affordable housing shortage, and a chance to raise tobaccos taxes to plug a hole in the Medicaid budget.
But it was a loss that dominated the last two weeks of the session as Republicans fled the Capitol to deny the majority party the quorum needed for a vote on a proposal to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
The walkout, which included threats of violence from state Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, drew national attention and overshadowed some good legislation that passed with bipartisan support and marked one of the most productive and successful sessions in recent history.
The most dramatic example of bipartisanship can be attributed to the perseverance of the late state Sen. Jackie Winters, who will be remembered as one of Oregon's most respected public officials.
Winters, a Salem Republican, bucked her party's traditional tough-on-crime stance when it came to kids. Married to an ex-convict, Winters long sought to get rid of voter-approved mandatory minimum sentences for juvenile offenders.
She and co-sponsor Floyd Prozanski, a liberal Democrat, shepherded Senate Bill 1008 through the upper chamber in mid-April, with Winters — frail from her long battle with lung cancer — making an impassioned call to provide children second chances.
The bill then withstood a withering misinformation campaign (including the false claim that it would free Thurston High School shooter Kip Kinkel), and on May 23 the bill cleared its final hurdle, passing the House with a handful of needed GOP votes.
A week later, Winters died.
Her memorial service drew hundreds and served as a reminder of what can happen when politicians put their principles before partisanship. And, despite the GOP walkout that followed, there were other examples in 2019 of lawmakers finding consensus and passing legislation that will make Oregon better.
For example, while the failure of the cap-and-trade bill was a big defeat for those working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lawmakers came together on other pro-environment legislation, including:
¦ Giving local governments flexibility in granting property tax breaks for the cleanup of polluted brownfields (House Bill 2699);
¦ Forcing railroad companies to get state regulators to sign off on plans for dealing with oil spills (House Bill 2209);
¦ Regulating diesel truck emissions in the Portland area (House Bill 2007).
And, at a time when trust in
public agencies is dangerously low, lawmakers took steps to improve government transparency and accountability by passing laws that will:
¦ Force certain political donors to disclose contributions to "dark money" groups (House Bill 2983);
¦ Require campaign ads to include the names of the people or organizations that paid for them (House Bill 2716);
¦ Allow modest fines to be levied against public agencies that blatantly blow off public records requests (House Bill 2353);
¦ Refer to voters a proposal to change the state constitution to allow stronger campaign contribution limits in Oregon (SJR 18).
It won't be long before the Great GOP Walkout of '19 will be relegated to Oregon political trivia. After all, can you remember the year when House Democrats fled Salem for five days, or what prompted it? (It was 1991, over a GOP redistricting plan.) But the legislation that passed — both dramatic and mundane, will have a lasting impact and, in our view, a largely positive one.
Those who disagree will get their chance on at least a few of the issues, as the proposed tobacco tax and campaign contribution limits are definitely headed to the ballot, and the business tax is likely to join them. And so, the political discourse will continue, long after the drama has faded from memory.
— Pamplin Media Group editorial board