The Magical Mystery Tour that has become the Oregon Legislature during the past week took another dramatic turn Tuesday when Senate President Peter Courtney announced he did not believe there are enough Democratic votes to pass House Bill 2020, the state’s controversial carbon emission proposal.
The announcement by Courtney came after 11 Republican senators, including Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, jumped the political ship last week and went into hiding to compel changes to the proposed bill. The walkout is in its eighth day Thursday and while Courtney’s announcement marks a definite plot point in the latest Salem political drama, questions remain about whether GOP lawmakers will return.
Key Republican leaders dubbed the walkout as a “peaceful protest” and while we still firmly believe GOP lawmakers probably had little choice, we also still contend that lawmakers need to find a compromise and get back to work.
A fair criticism of the walkout is that it was the equivalent to staging a political temper tantrum because Republicans didn’t get their way. Fair, but not entirely accurate.
Insiders point to the reality that key Senate Republican lawmakers — such as Malheur County’s Cliff Bentz — were not only sought out for input on the bill, but encouraged by people like Courtney to help craft the carbon emission legislation.
But that never happened.
Bentz is key because there is probably no other lawmaker — on either side of the political aisle — that understands the carbon bill better. And, perhaps more importantly, he represents one of the poorest counties in an already economically disadvantaged Eastern Oregon.
To ignore his input illustrates that Democrats were never all that serious about seeking a compromise. The message they sent is they are in power and might makes right.
That’s a dangerous concept for a democracy.
A lot of political fingers are being pointed and wide-sweeping proclamations made about how the Republicans have damaged the political system with their walkout. Yet, we should not forget the Republican tactic isn’t a new one. It was a method used by Democrats in the early 2000s. At the time, Democrats in the state House staged a walkout to protest efforts by the then-majority House Republicans to redraw Oregon’s legislative districts. A June 25, 2001, article by Charles E. Beggs of The Associated Press quotes then-Senate Democratic Leader Kate Brown calling the actions of House Democrats “very appropriate under the circumstances.”
Some argue that lawmakers should allow the majority to win out in a debate such as the one revolving around the carbon bill. But we also should be mindful of what James Madison — one of the important framers of the Constitution — said about the “tyranny of the majority.”
The political farce in Salem is playing itself out but, in the end, the people of Oregon should make the final decision on the carbon bill.