Image for Latest GOP Walkout Tinged with Deeper Sense of Resentment

Republican Senate and House members have walked out as threatened over pending cap-and-trade legislation, which has led to political finger-pointing and a sharpened divide between urban and rural Oregonians. The walkout denies House and Senate Democratic leaders a quorum needed to conduct business on their respective floors.

Republicans lawmakers say Democrats “rigged” the legislative process to advance Senate Bill 1530 by rejecting every GOP amendment, blocking a move to refer the measure to voters and failing to provide a comprehensive fiscal and revenue analysis. “We will not be party to a legislative process that ignores minority voices, rejects opportunities for consensus and rushes bills through without key information from our nonpartisan policy staff,” House GOP Leader Christine Drazan wrote in an op-ed published by The Oregonian.

“Walking out on the job is a dereliction of duty,” Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick said. “Serving in the legislature is a great honor. Walking out on the job is dishonorable and disrespectful. I am disappointed in the Senate Republicans for taking this irresponsible action.” Governor Brown also scolded Republicans, calling the walkout a “taxpayer-funded vacation.”

Senator Michael Dembrow, who has led the charge on SB 1530, tweeted, “To my R colleagues: If you really want to defeat the climate action bill, just do 2 things: (1) return to work & vote no; (2) if the bill passes, go gather signatures to get it on the ballot. That’s the Oregon Way. Please stop all this rhetoric & let’s just do our jobs.” Twitter respondents said the measure’s emergency clause and tighter restrictions on signature-gathering make it much harder to refer the bill to voters.

This is the third GOP walkout in the last two legislative sessions spurred by opposition to cap-and-trade legislation, which backers say is needed to combat climate change, but opponents claim is a tax that will do little to reduce carbon emissions. The walkout in the current short legislative session seems less tactical and more tinged with resentment about the balance of power in the hands of urban, mostly Democratic legislators.

That resentment has congealed into the Move Oregon’s Border for a Greater Idaho movement. “It’s a movement to try to maintain our rural values,” spokesman Mike McCarter, a 73-year-old retired nurseryman and firearms instructor from La Pine in Central Oregon, told OPB. “We’re afraid of what’s coming down legislatively. It’ll destroy rural Oregon.”

Despite the legal, economic and political obstacles to shifting 17 rural Oregon counties into an adjoining state, Senate GOP Leader Herman Baertchiger has expressed support for the idea. “Oregon is largely controlled by one party that does not represent the entire state effectively, making the urban and rural divide striking,” Baertschiger said in an email to CNN. “Democrats should be paying attention to how unhappy these Oregonians are with the current regime to seek secession from Oregon. I would welcome the idea to serve on the Greater Idaho legislature!”

With no House or Senate floor action, the Capitol has a different vibe, but committees are still meeting and working bills in the expectation Republican lawmakers will return before March 8 when the 2020 session is constitutionally required to adjourn. Brown could call a special session, though Republicans could boycott that, too.

There are a number of pending bills and spending decisions, including how to spend an unexpected $500 million in state tax revenue. Some of the funding proposals include housing for the homeless, wildfire prevention and emergency preparedness.

In the absence of Republican colleagues, Democrats on the House Rules Committee have introduced several referrals, which would further ruffle the feathers of rural residents and SB 1530 opponents:

  • LC 312 would lower the benchmark for excess lifetime cancer risk level for existing air contamination sources from 50 in one million to 25 in one million. Lowers Hazard Index number used for calculation of benchmark for excess noncancer risk for existing air contamination sources from 5 to 1. Repeals statute limiting local community right to know regulatory programs. 
  • LC 313  would require 100 percent of electricity sold to Oregon retail electricity consumers in 2045 and subsequent years to come from eligible renewable and carbon-free energy resources.
  • LC 314  would modify statewide greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals and direct the Environmental Quality Commission to adopt standards and requirements to ensure compliance with modified statewide greenhouse gas emissions goals.
  • LC 316  would propose an amendment to the Oregon Constitution authorizing the Legislative Assembly to use 50 percent of certain revenues from levies related to motor vehicle fuel and motor vehicles for any purposes provided by law.
  • LC 317 would repeal greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals and direct the Environmental Quality Commission to adopt statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits.

With an approaching candidate filing deadline, rumors circulated in the Capitol that Senator Shemia Fagan, a Portland Democrat in the middle of her first term, will enter the race for secretary of state, vying against three other Democrats for the nomination in the May primary – Senator Mark Hass, Jamie McLeod-Skinner and Cameron Smith. Fagan may try to fill the political lane vacated by former Rep. Jennifer Williamson who withdrew from the race after reports about her use of campaign funds for international travel. Senator Kim Thatcher, one of the Republicans who has walked, has filed for the Republican secretary of state nomination.