Remember all the way back to January when a lot of Oregonians were worried that the Democrats' supermajorities in the House and Senate meant they might have unbridled power?
Turns out their worries were overstated.
In 1935, humorist Will Rogers wrote, "I am not a member of any organized party — I'm a Democrat." Eighty-four years later, and the joke still works.
The "supermajority" label means Democrats in both chambers have enough votes to pass legislation raising revenue without Republican assistance. The Dems also have the governorship, which could have led to naked displays of harshly partisan legislation. Instead, like the javelin thrower who wins the coin toss and elects to receive, we've watched a series of self-defeating bungles by the party in charge. The debacle over cap-and-trade legislation is the latest and most glaring example, but not the only one.
In late June, Republicans staged a walkout — as of press time, the GOP had vowed to return over the weekend — to stop Democrats from hammering through a bill to reduce carbon emissions in Oregon. The walkout is one of the few tools, albeit an overly melodramatic one, that the minority party can employ. You need 20 people on the floor for the Senate to convene. The Democrats have 18. Walking out means the Senate cannot conduct business.
The thing to remember is: It's a bluff. The Republicans would have to come back. There are state agency budgets to pass and services to constituents that would go missing. The lawmakers also were being charged a fine for every day they missed. Plus, after the session ends, the governor could call an immediate special session, followed by another, and another, until they return. And during that time, the GOP members would be losing money and would be perceived as hiding.
The walkout is dramatic. It's a strategy to gain media attention, not a strategy to win.
But after days of the Republicans gaining national and international attention, and after impassioned pleas by Democrats and environmentalists, Sen. Peter Courtney on Tuesday, June 25, admitted that he didn't have the votes among his own party to pass the bill.
The entire "cap-and-trade" debate was a Potemkin Village — a ruse to make a hollow effort appear to be real.
It's unclear if the Senate Democrats ever had enough votes for this bill. Having spoken to insiders in Salem, we believe Courtney didn't. That means the entire thing was a debate about a bill that wasn't ever going anywhere. That's bad politicking. It makes the so-called supermajority appear to be feckless and faithless to the environmental supporters who got 'em there.
An environmental group had traveled to Salem last to show support for Democrats and the cap-and-trade bill. When Courtney announced that the bill couldn't even get out of his own caucus, the group stood and turned their backs on the Senate president in a show of disdain.
And we thought the low point of the session for Senate Democrats was during the first walkout, when, in order to secure the votes for the historic Student Success Act — which funneled an additional $1 billion into K-12 public schools yer year — the Democrats sacrificed bills on childhood immunizations and unsecured firearms in the home.
The price tag for "student success" now includes more measles and unsecured guns in students' homes.
Democrats are correct to take up the very real issues of climate change and reducing carbon emissions.
Thursday's rally in front of the Capitol shows that there are strong emotions on all sides of this. We generally favor the Legislature doing its job and making laws, but by this time, the issue of cap-and-trade probably should go to the voters. Let both sides make the case. Democrats: Courtney's fumble has given the opposition a lot of steam, which you'll have to overcome. We believe science is on the side of reducing carbon emissions. Make your best case. Trust that Oregonians are pretty smart and, more often than not, vote wisely.
As for future legislatures taking on climate change, for the foreseeable future, that ship has sailed. Either you have the votes to push gutsy legislation like this or you don't. This isn't higher math. If you don't have the votes, and you still make impassioned speeches and wring your hands, you can't very well expect anyone — opponents and allies alike — to ever take you seriously again.
Democrats: When you bungle the big stuff, you cede the high ground to ludicrous bumper-sticker clichés, such as comparing climate change legislation to "globalists' twisted agenda" — yes, that was a real quote from a real lawmaker sounding really dumb.
Democrats, the time may have come to consider a leadership change in the Senate.
Republicans: As of press time, you've won on this issue, thanks to an own-goal by Courtney. You bluffed once, and Democrats folded and the anti-science, anti-vaccine movement won. You bluffed again and Oregon won't be addressing carbon emissions. You're tempted to keep on bluffing, killing all future bills, including all those that were co-sponsored by Republicans or carried to the floor by them, as well as bills to run agencies.
Don't. Get back to work. Take your wins, and your losses, do your job, and realize that you lucked out, bluffing with pocket deuces and raking in the pot twice.
We'll see this weekend if all sides roll up their sleeves and do their jobs. If not, we're in for a special session.
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It costs just a few cents a day.)