It's time for me to face reality. Democrats here in Oregon aren't willing to fight for what they believe in. So why should I remain an active Democrat?
That's a question I'm grappling with after Governor Kate Brown, Senate President Peter Courtney, and other Democratic leaders in the state legislature unilaterally surrendered to Republicans on a top priority for Dems, HB 2020, a cap and trade bill that would have put Oregon in the forefront of efforts to combat the carbon pollution that is wreaking havoc on our planet.
Shortly before noon today I arrived at the steps of the capitol building to take part in a rally in support of HB 2020. I wasn't aware that earlier in the morning Courtney had said that the bill was dead.
Not because a vote had been taken, and there weren't enough Senators in favor of the bill to pass it. (The Oregon House already passed HB 2020).
No, Courtney just said that the bill was dead. Apparently there isn't going to be a Senate vote, so it looks like we'll never know if Courtney's vote-counting was correct, or if a legislator with doubts about HB 2020 could have been persuaded to support the bill.
I'm depressed right now because I wrongly thought that I lived in a state where Democrats are passionate about progressive causes. I believed that Oregon was an oasis of progressive sanity in a country where Trump-led Republicans are acting increasingly crazy.
Like, the Republican members of the Oregon Senate walking out this year not once, but twice, to deny a quorum in the Senate, which requires 20 of the 30 senators to be present (there are 18 Democrats and 12 Republicans).
I couldn't believe it when Brown, Courtney, and other Dem leaders rewarded the first Republican walkout in May by killing two bills the GOP detested, just to get them to return to the legislature and do the job they're required by law to perform. Giving in to hostage-taking generally results in more hostage-taking.
Which, not surprisingly, happened again this month, even though Senate Republicans had promised to not engage in any more temper tantrum walkouts. They lied, as Republicans often do in this age of Trump.
A central demand of Senate Republicans, who reportedly were on vacation in Idaho, was that Oregonians be able to vote on HB 2020. That was an unreasonable demand, since the climate bill has been ten years in the making and was debated extensively in not only this legislative session, but the previous session.
I figured that Democrats would hang tough.
After all, Gov. Brown claimed to be a big backer of HB 2020. She said she'd call a special session in early July if the Senate Republican walkout lasted until the statutory end of the regular session on June 30. Democrats have supermajorities in both the state House and Senate. Oregonians care deeply about the environment.
Again, I figured wrong.
Courtney and Brown collapsed like a house of cards in a hurricane. Today they both declared that HB 2020 was dead without a vote being taken. And from what I can tell from newspaper stories, there won't ever be a vote on the climate bill -- likely to avoid making it clear who the three Democrats are who oppose HB 2020.
A Salem Reporter story describes what happened after Courtney made his surprise announcement.
Looking down at Courtney was a gallery full of supporters of cap and trade, mostly teens, that had traveled to the Capitol to show their support.
As it became clear Courtney was telegraphing a message to Senate Republicans, whom he wants to return to the Capitol, a man stood and directed the crowd to stand and turn their backs on the Senate President, showing their disdain for his words.
Brad Reed, spokesman for Renew Oregon, the chief advocacy group pushing cap and trade, said Courtney's words came as a shock. Sixteen senators had given the group confirmation they would vote for it, he said.
"Instead of having the Senate vote on the floor and stand up to the public, the Senate President is allowing members to hide behind a contradictory statement. Make them vote and answer to their voters and Oregon's children," Reed said in a statement after the speech. "This is the biggest failure of public leadership in Oregon in recent memory."
That's putting it mildly.
I've lived in Oregon since 1971. I can't remember any more cowardly action by a state elected official than Governor Brown and Senate President Courtney rewarding Republican walkouts twice by killing important bills that were top Democratic priorities.
It's tough for me to find anything positive in this debacle.
What the Dems have done is establish a deeply dangerous precedent. Whenever Republicans in either the state House or Senate are in the minority, yet have enough members to deny a quorum, all they have to do is walk out, head to a conservative state like Idaho, and wait for Democratic leaders to give in to their demands.
On social media I've been seeing progressives optimistically say that even though the climate bill is dead now, it can come back to life in another legislative session. Huh? How? This will be impossible unless Democrats have walkout-proof majorities in both the House and Senate.
And that doesn't just mean enough members with a "D" after their names, because in this session two Democratic senators, Betsy Johnson and Arnie Roblan, have said they oppose HB 2020 and so likely would support another Republican walkout.
The only good news I can dredge up in my mind is that I now can delete email messages from the Oregon Democratic Party and Governor Brown without reading them. When they start fighting for what progressives like me believe in, I'll feel better about my Democratic registration.
Until then, I'll oppose crazy Republican policies, but I'll admire the GOP in this state for using every tool at their disposal to stand up for what they value. I just wish Oregon Democrats would do the same.
Note: on Facebook today I shared a single photo (shown above) out of the many I took at the noon rally in support of HB 2020 today, saying that I'd share more photos and a video of Brown speaking later.
But now I see no point in doing that, since it would simply depress me further to recollect the passion of real environmental advocates, including many young people, who've been screwed over by Brown, Courtney, and other Democratic leaders.
Well, since I'd already uploaded the video of Brown speaking to You Tube, I might as well share it. When I heard Gov. Brown, I wasn't aware that she'd called HB 2020 dead. This explains her call for patience in the video. Our planet needs urgent climate action, but Brown is fine with waiting years or decades for Oregon to do our part.
UPDATE: One of the few bright spots on social media following the announcement that HB 2020 was dead came from Rep. Paul Evans. I liked what he said a lot, and agree wholeheartedly with Evans.
But Republican Senator Kim Thatcher didn't like his mention of "terrorists," so Willamette Week is reporting that she's not inclined to return to the legislature, even after the Dems declared the climate bill dead. Well, that's what happens when Democrats give in to legislative terrorism.
Willamette Week also has obtained a copy of the May agreement between Senate Republicans and Democratic leadership where, as noted above, the Dems killed two bills in exchange for the Republicans promising not to walk out again for the rest of the session.
Instead of making the Republicans hold up their end of the agreement, Courtney and Brown now have declared HB 2020 dead in the (likely vain) hope that this will bring Senate Republicans back to Salem. Excerpt:
WW has obtained the one-page document that formed the basis for Senate Republicans coming back to work May 13, after the first time this session they fled the Capitol to deny Democrats a quorum.
The document included a pledge not to walk out again. Yet Senate Republicans walked out a second time last week.
...The fact that GOP senators aren't back in Salem yet supports the widespread belief in the Capitol that their second walk-out was about more than HB 2020, that it was about figuring out how to undercut other Democratic priorities, including the corporate tax passed earlier in the session and is set for referral.
The existence of the May 13 document also makes more puzzling Courtney's decision this morning to announce on the Senate floor that he did not have the 16 Democratic votes necessary to pass HB 2020. Rather than trying to hold Republicans to the agreement, Courtney capitulated.
The more I learn about this fiasco, the more irritated I get at how spineless Oregon Democrats allowed Senate Republicans to get away with two walkouts and being able to take credit for killing the cap and trade bill.
Since this story is being discussed nationally, the cowardice shown by Dems in this state likely will embolden Republicans elsewhere to take advantage of Democratic weakness. After all, if Republicans can bend Democrats to their will in a blue state like Oregon, they should be able to do it in other areas also.