It wasn't pleasant, but I forced myself to read How Democracies Die by two professors of government at Harvard University, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.
This is a scary book that, when I read it, seemed like it contained warnings for the United States as a whole in our age of Trumpism, with Oregon being immune from the worst of the ways democracies die.
But the current walkout of Senate Republicans from the state legislature is a clear and present danger to Oregon democracy. This was a message of the recent rally at the capitol by supporters of the climate bill that the Republicans are preventing a vote on, due to their walkout making it impossible for the Senate to have a quorum.
Speakers and signs at the rally noted the threat to democracy that the walkout poses.
Sure, walkouts have been used for leverage previously by both Democrats and Republicans in the Oregon legislature. However, those walkouts only lasted a few days and were designed to draw attention to an issue, not to bring legislative proceedings to a halt.
Here's why this walkout is so dangerous to democracy.
(1) Senate Republicans are refusing to return to Salem unless they get a guarantee that the climate bill, HB 2020, won't pass. This isn't how democracy works. Votes are taken. Surprises happen in voting. Legislators can change their minds at the last minute. It appears that there aren't enough votes to pass HB 2020, but this can't be guaranteed.
(2) Democracy respects majority rule. Republicans are in the minority in both the state House and Senate. This was the will of the people. Yet Senate Republicans are acting as if they are the majority party. They're claiming they speak for most Oregonians, but obviously they don't, or they'd control the legislature.
(3) Refusing to take part in the legislative process unless your demands are met is hostage-taking, plain and simple. Strong-arm tactics can't be tolerated in a democracy. As others have noted, what the Senate Republicans are doing is a form of lawmaking terrorism. Winning the hearts and minds of voters should be how a party succeeds in lawmaking, not by engaging in temper tantrums that bring the legislative process to a standstill.
(4) Sen. Brian Boquist, a Republican taking part in the walkout, threatened Oregon State Police troopers with bodily harm (shooting) if they tried to enforce Governor Brown's lawful order to find the Senate Republicans and bring them back to the legislature. Militia members have offered to protect the Senate Republicans.
(5) Senate Republicans also staged a walkout in May, which unfortunately led to Democratic leaders giving in on several of their demands, including killing two bills that were Democratic priorities. The Senate Republicans agreed in writing to not walkout again for the rest of the legislative session. But they lied, given their second walkout.
In How Democracies Die there's a lot of talk about norms, basically unwritten rules, that need to be followed for democracies to work. Trump, of course, has been demolishing presidential norms almost daily. I'd hoped that Oregon would escape similar Republican craziness.
Here's a passage from the book:
A second norm critical to democracy's survival is what we call institutional forbearance. Forbearance means "patient self-control; restraint and tolerance," or "the action of restraining from exercising a legal right."
For our purposes, institutional forbearance can be thought of as avoiding actions that, while respecting the letter of the law, obviously violate its spirit.
Where norms of forbearance are strong, politicians do not use their institutional prerogatives to the hilt, even if it is technically legal to do so, for such actions could imperil the existing system.
How the walkout is resolved thus is all-important. In no way, not even in the slightest, should the Senate Republicans be rewarded for what they've done.
Governor Brown and Senate President Courtney should do these things:
-- Enforce the statutory $500 a day fine for failing to carry out legislative duties
-- Make sure GOP senators aren't able to use campaign funds to pay their fines
-- Have a vote on HB 2020 as required by Senate rules
-- Publicize the agreement GOP senators broke when they walked out a second time
-- Call the senators liars for walking out when they promised not to
-- Say over and over that if HB 2020 isn't enacted this year, it will be reintroduced every year until it does pass
-- Affirm that never again will a walkout of legislators be rewarded in any fashion
Lastly, here's a passage from an excellent Rolling Stone story published today, "Runaway Senators, Militias, and Koch Money: What the Hell Just Happened in Oregon?"
Thanks to Rolling Stone for calling this debacle what it is: Republicans ratfucking the legislative process. (Except rats have more ethics than Senate Republicans.)
The Republican War on Democracy has taken many forms — from extreme gerrymandering, to undermining voting rights through voter-ID laws and disenfranchising people with criminal records, to the Trump administration’s foiled attempt to rig the census in favor of white people. In Oregon, Republicans have chosen a different tactic: ratfucking the legislative process, while making open threats of violence.