It’s been kind of a crazy weekend in Oregon. The flight from the state capitol, of what’s become known as Oregon’s Eleven (all the Oregon Senate Republicans), has attracted national and international news. By Monday night, there was no end in sight to the standoff with the Democratic supermajority trifecta and no sight of the Republican senators’ either. As for endgames, Gov. Kate Brown is widely expected to call a special session in July, if and when he current session expires on June 30. One senator told the Wall Street Journal he was prepared to stay away for months.
Like most political crises these days, this one could have been avoided. Local TV reported Thursday that an eleventh-hour compromise had been reached between Gov. Brown and the Republicans on a contentious Cap & Trade bill, the source of the super-minority’s consternation. Senate Democrats, however, rejected this deal out of hand, causing the Republicans to walkout on Thursday. That afternoon, at the behest of Senate President Peter Courtney, Gov. Brown sent the Oregon State Police to find them.
Republicans argue the bill will have a devastating effect on industries, such as logging and trucking, and a disproportionately harsh impact on poor, working-class, and rural residents. The projected 23 cents a gallon gas tax to be implemented in 2021 will make transportation more difficult, and raise the price of goods that depend on transportation to get to consumers. Like almost all other bills in Salem, Democrats have attached an “emergency clause,” which would enact Cap & Trade immediately upon the governor’s signature, and make the bill harder to challenge at the ballot box.
Democrats insisted they have compromised enough, carving out concessions to utilities and industrial groups, and creating rebates to soften the blow on the poorest of Oregonians. They repeated their demands that Republicans face the music, and give them the votes they need to pass the bill. And they have maintained that climate change is a planetary emergency, requiring immediate action, and cannot possibly wait for the results of a ballot measure at some point in the future. It should be noted, however, that neighboring voters, in Washington, shot down Cap & Trade twice.
Fleeing the precincts to deny a quorum is unusual, but not unprecedented throughout Oregon state history. The tactic has been employed, by both parties in both houses, at least five times since 1971. In 2001, then-Minority Leader Kate Brown took her Senate Democrats to the Warm Springs reservation to deny the Republicans a quorum on a redistricting bill. Just last month, the Republicans left the capitol to block a $2 billion sales tax, before a deal was reached with the governor on guns and vaccines. Notably, the deal included a “reset” on Cap & Trade, which never materialized, and President Courtney declined to send the cops.
Oregon would be the second state to enact a Cap & Trade program. California was the first, and critics, who blasted it as little more than a government slush fund to pay for legislators’ pet projects, have quickly been proven right. Oregon’s strict constitutional restraints on how certain monies can be spent might avert this problem, but create others. Gas tax revenue, for instance, must be spent on roads and highways. Money from natural gas utilities must go to the common school fund, which would further detract from the program’s stated goals. With Idaho an effective sanctuary state for Oregon conservatives, it’s unlikely this impasse will be solved any time soon.