The walk-outs staged by outnumbered Senate Republicans to stop legislation they opposed during the just-concluded session of the Oregon Legislature left a particularly bad taste in the mouths of many Democrats. Freshman senator Jeff Golden held a press conference in Medford Tuesday afternoon to discuss the session.
Golden noted a raft of bills majority Democrats had successfully passed this session, including measures to boost education funding, ban off-shore oil drilling and increase protections for renters. But Golden said he was deeply troubled by the two Republican walk-outs, especially the one that killed the greenhouse gas reduction bill he’d worked on. He said eleven Republican lawmakers had essentially thwarted the will of Oregon voters.
“Eighteen of us were elected by people based on campaigns that were reflected in the legislation that died because of their walkout,” Golden said. “So a minority of legislators vetoed what a majority of legislators ran on and won on.”
Golden said if that tactic can be used to kill bills that lawmakers in the minority don’t have the votes to defeat, the principle of governing by majority rule becomes worthless.
Golden suggested a legislative rule change that would count only days where business was conducted toward the total days in a legislative session. That would prevent minority legislators from running out the clock to force the majority to make concessions.
The senators who walked out say the climate bill would have caused deep economic harm to their mostly-rural constituents. Golden conceded that in the past, rural communities were often hit hardest by laws aiming to reduce the environmental impacts of resource-based industries. But he says this bill was different.
“This bill said no, there’s a better way to do that,” Golden said. “But it was trashed anyway as if it paid no mind at all to the people who would be vulnerable to economic change.”
In fact, Golden said, many amendments to the bill were added specifically to address rural concerns. Such changes included directing investment at rural and coastal communities, allowing the forestry and agriculture industries more freedom and tax credits for low-income Oregonians to offset an increase in gas prices.
Now that the climate bill is dead for this session, Governor Kate Brown says she’s exploring the use of executive action to achieve some of what the bill could have done.