Rep Marty Wilde: 'Walkout Edition'
What happened? On Monday, February 24, Senate Republicans walked off the job and abandoned their oath of office. On Tuesday, the House Republicans followed them, going AWOL from their duty to the people of Oregon. In the Legislature, passing a bill only requires a simple majority vote, but at least two-thirds of the Legislature must be present for the vote. Given the current membership of the House and Senate, two Republicans in each chamber need to be present for us to vote. Without them, we cannot conduct business, even to pass legislation with bipartisan support.
Why did they leave? Their stated reason for their departure was to kill climate legislation. However, on February 24, they walked out because they didn’t want to have an evening floor session, which had been scheduled because of their insistence on reading bills aloud on the floor. Last year, they walked out over school funding and safety measures. Some version of the climate bill has been under consideration for the last 12 years and, in the last two years, we have had 35 hours of testimony, a statewide listening tour, and 6 hours of floor debate – a record for any bill. The claim is made widely that Republican ideas have not been heard and that the specific concerns of rural communities have been ignored. But many of Republican suggestions have been captured in the language of SB 1530, and, indeed, the basic cap and trade concept came from a Republican think tank. Furthermore, many adjustments have been made to the original bill in response to comments from our rural constituents.
What are we doing to bring them back? The Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate have several options to compel the attendance of missing members. These include sending out the Sergeants at Arms to arrest the absent members or asking the Governor to send the State Police. So far, they have opted for restraint to avoid taking the troopers from their other law enforcement duties. Instead, we have issued subpoenas for those absent without leave to appear on Thursday, March 5, to explain why they abandoned their duties for the people of Oregon.
Why not just comply with their demand to refer SB 1530 to the ballot? Because this demand is only the latest red herring from the Republican leadership. They consistently move the goalposts whenever we accommodate a demand. If we were to agree to the referral, there would only be another demand and excuse for them to fail to return to their duties. Last year, after they walked out, they signed a written agreement not to walk out again--and then promptly walked out again.
We can’t bargain with people who don’t fulfill their commitments. The Renew Oregon coalition has strong ballot measures that they may choose to place on the ballot, should our colleagues continue to be AWOL. Similarly, if they return and we pass SB 1530 and enough people want it on the ballot, they may still refer it to the ballot. An emergency clause does not prevent a repeal by the people. However, Oregonians support legislation to fight climate change. Not only does every Democratic member of the House supports some form of climate change legislation, but that position won Democrats 300,000 more votes than our Republican colleagues in the last election.
What happens if Republicans do not return? The most important result is that we continue to lose time in the battle against climate change. We know that the planet will suffer irreparable harmif we fail to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, putting our children’s lives at risk. We must do our part to fight climate change, showing that we can do right by the environment while boosting our economy, or the US and other countries are unlikely to act. In addition, other critical bipartisan priorities are sacrificed. We will lose funding for the upcoming fire season. We will fail to pass laws to protect forests and water quality. We will miss the opportunity to work on homelessness and to complete critical renovations of University of Oregon’s science building. In order to keep the legislature from passing a well-conceived climate bill, crafted to help us make progress together, the Republican legislators are willing to sacrifice progress other goals important to us all.
What happens next? There is no point in bargaining with people who break their promises. Either the Republicans will return before the end of session on March 8 or they will not. If they do return, we will pass the legislation at the front of the line – including SB 1530. If they do not, every bill currently before the legislature will die.
Those who have abandoned their posts will continue to get paid, both their base salary and the per diem that they receive for living in Salem (even though they are not present in Salem). If past experience is any teacher, they will use corporate campaign donations to offset the costs of their walkout. (You can see clear evidence of this on ORESTAR, our public campaign contributions database.) After March 8, the Governor, or Speaker and President, may call a special session at any time. However, that special session would still require a 2/3 majority to take any action and it will cost the taxpayers still more money
What can you do? As I’ve knocked on doors in my district this week, you’ve expressed to me your frustration at their contempt for your vote in the last election. The most important thing you can do is to support and vote for the candidates and policies that you support in the upcoming elections. The best answer to an attack on democracy is to exercise your participation in it.