The GOP members of the Oregon Senate didn’t need the votes. They just needed the rules of their chamber, and more importantly, the wherewithal to call the Democrats’ bluff.
The Oregon government boasts one of 14 Democratic trifectas in the nation, meaning the party controls the House, Senate, and governorship. In the most optimistic of theories, the northwestern state’s party leaders would provide a roadmap for other Democrats on how to effectively wield legislative power. Instead, they’re currently getting their ass handed to them by a minority conservative party that decided instead of working with them to pass sensical vaccination and gun control laws, they would bring the entire chamber—and thus the government—to a screeching halt.
According to Willamette Week, Senate Republicans staged a weeklong walkout starting last Tuesday. While their votes typically wouldn’t be necessary, their absence denied the chamber a quorum (the minimum number of legislators required for a vote), which it needed in order to vote and pass the tax package backed by Gov. Kate Brown. Initially, it seemed as though the party leaders’ qualms with the debt attached to Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System were the sole cause for the walk-out. But as one day turned to two, it was clear the GOP had other targets in mind.
In speaking with OPB, GOP Sen. Cliff Bentz claimed that the Republicans hashed out all of their demands prior to taking the chamber’s voting abilities hostage. The GOP sent Democrats their wish list early in the week, per OPB. Among the requests was the immediate killing of a trio of Democrat-backed bills focused on increasing gun storage stipulations, tighter vaccination requirements, and a cap-and-trade system meant to combat climate change. That was in addition to the GOP’s call to return a school funding bill back to committee—a particularly sticky demand given Oregon teachers marched on the state capitol last Wednesday in protest of large class sizes and limited medical staff members.)
At the start of negotiations, the Democrats seemed willing to stand strong. Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick told OPB last Wednesday that the gun bill would be deserted “over (her) dead body.”
Unfortunately, that zeal quickly faded over the weekend. The Week first reported on Monday evening that Democratic leaders in the state Senate agreed to drop two bills for the return of their dissenting colleagues—Senate Bill 978, which would have, among other things, set penalties for gun owners that failed to properly store their weapons, and House Bill 3063, which would have ended non-medical exemptions for those seeking to skip vaccinating their children.
Compare all of this with how the Wisconsin GOP handled Democrats fleeing the state to deny the legislature a quorum on the anti-union Act 10 in 2011: by threatening them, ordering the Democratic legislators arrested and returned to the capitol, and then just passing the bill anyway via legislative maneuvering.
While the Democrats don’t appear to be in any immediate danger of losing their trifecta, letting the minority GOP dunk all over them instead of passing legislation Oregonians put them in office to enact is a bad look. Admittedly, it’s a tough position to be in, given they can’t move forward with legislative action without the Republican bodies; the move to acquiesce to half of the Republican demands, however, is a dire loss.
Here’s hoping no (more) Oregonians get measles!