Do What You Can Do 6/21/19: Special Waiting-Out-the-Walkout Edition

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Senator Jeff Golden

 *  “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”                    —Helen Keller

Welcome to a special Waiting-Out-the-Walkout edition of Do What You Can Do.

What's Up

Senator Golden on the Floor

The Walkout:

I write this at my desk on the Senate floor, surrounded by all of my 17 Democratic colleagues and none of my 11 Republican colleagues. We’ve been here for five hours now, chit-chatting, filling each other in on the bills we’re still working on, catching up on constituent e-mail, talking or Face-timing with local media outlets. What we’re not doing is the public’s business we were sent here to do. 

That’s because the Republican Senators, if this afternoon’s reports from CNN are right, are in Missoula, Montana. They apparently flew there early this morning in order to leave the jurisdiction of the Oregon State Police. A couple hours later, at the Senate President’s request, Governor Kate Brown ordered OSP to do everything possible to bring these folks back to the Capitol. 

For the second time this session, the Republicans have walked. The purpose is to deny the Senate a quorum; the state Constitution allows us to do business only when 2/3 of us, 20 out of 30, are present. In May they left for four days to keep us from passing the Student Success Act, which included a $1 billion/year Corporate Activities Tax. They came back after a closed-door deal (and the Student Success package has since been passed and signed into law) that killed a couple of unrelated bills they didn’t like. At the time more than a few of us wondered what the Republicans would take away from that experience. “I have a three-year-old,” one of my colleagues said then. “And the last thing in the world I’d do if he pitched a tantrum is give him a piece of candy.” Today it’s especially easy to see what she meant. 

Republicans Wanted Poster

Part of that regrettable deal was the
Republican’s promise that they wouldn’t walk out again for the rest of the session…wouldn’t do, that is, exactly what they did today. This time the triggering issue is HB 2020, the big climate bill that’s grabbed so much energy and attention all session.  This bill is so grotesquely horrible, they keep saying, they had no choice but to flee Salem. “Senate Republicans,” Senator Tim Knopp (R-Bend) wrote today from his out-of-state perch, “have chosen to use the last option available to protect our constituents by denying the Senate a quorum to pass HB 2020. This follows on the heels of a big rally in the Capitol this week of loggers and log-truck drivers; one had the logs he was hauling spray-painted with the message "No more. This is my life. 

This tone of desperation has been a steady thread of the HB 2020 debate for months. Some of it has been manufactured. Sen. Herman Baertschiger (R-Grants Pass), passing the time somewhere in Montana as I write, is the leader of Senate Republicans. This afternoon's TV news quotes him saying that HB 2020 will devastate anybody in the natural resource industry. “They’re afraid,” he said of rural Southern Oregonians. “They’re afraid that their livelihood is gonna go away. 

Yes, many of them are afraid. I’ve received my share of mail from people fearing that HB 2020 will trash their way of life. Last March, when we held a public hearing on the bill at Central High in Medford, something like 60 people spoke for the bill and some 50 against it; of the second group, about 25 said the program would “crush”—always that same word—the economy and their lives. 

Medford Public Hearing on HB 2020

Our Medford public forum on HB 2020 from March. Photo courtesy of Allen Hallmark

Why Are People This Scared?  

I think there are three reasons. One is that people who’ve made their living with their hands, in the forests, on farms, on fishing boats or in mines, in factories and shops, have found themselves on the short end of a very short stick for years now. They used to be valued workers; now they’re replaceable production inputs in a world very different from the promising one they grew up in. Hundreds of professions across the country that used to promise a decently secure future and retirement just don’t anymore. The truth is that most blue-collar workers everywhere are scared for good reasons. 

The second reason is a case study of the first. Thirty years ago workers in our valley took a huge and sudden hit when the rules of federal forest management changed almost overnight. Whatever you think and whoever you want to blame for those hard times, thousands of Southern Oregonians were knocked out of middle-class security into economically rugged lives. It’s not hard to scare people who’ve gone through that kind of change. 

The third reason is simple. A lot of people are scared out of their wits about this bill because high-profile voices are working hard to scare them out of their wits. Take the claim that HB 2020 “will devastate anybody in the natural resource industry.SeriouslyIf you’ve followed this debate since January, you can’t possibly count the number of times you’ve heard how this Cap and Trade program will devastate, destroy, decimate, ruin, demolish or crush Oregon and Oregonians or both.  

Fire by ODOT

Photo courtesy of ODOT

I want to say this clearly. The politicians preaching fire-and-brimstone about HB 2020 either haven’t read the bill, don’t understand its provisions, haven’t bothered to look at the economy-boosting impacts of carbon pricing wherever it’s been tried**, or are cynically exploiting the natural anxiety about change to for political purposes. With the worried hopes of so many working people on the line, that’s a deeply cruel thing to do. And it’s cruel to imply to the people they say they’re fighting for that things will be fine if we don’t act boldly on climate. The evidence, up to and including last summer’s hellacious fires and unbearable smoke, loudly says that’s not true.  

I’m angry about that. Mixed with that feeling is real sadness about that logtruck driver—“This is my life”—the scared comments (some tinged with rage, some not)  I’ve read on email and heard in public hearings. Whenever there’s a major social/economic shift—again, the Timber Wars come to mind—the ones who profited the most from the existing order seem to be held harmless while their workers take the biggest hits. That’s not the way it has to be. The timber corporations who made billions off Northwest forests could have done much more during the transition to help the workers that labored to create their wealth. The immensely lucrative fossil-fuel industry, which year after year raked in the largest profits ever recorded by any industry, could be helping workers through the transition now.   

But that’s not how things work. Pick a major economic transition from any historical moment and you’ll find the heaviest load landing on the shoulders the least privileged, however hard they may have worked creating wealth for others We’re trying to do it differently with HB 2020. 

Logger Truck Protest

Photo courtesy of KOIN 6

The intensity of t
oday’s fight is fueled by forces even bigger than this big issue.  One of them is the emotional clash of cultures I described earlier in the battle over coyote-killing contests. It lays bare the core belief of many working people, so evident in the last presidential election, that they’ve been dismissed and ignored 

That has fostered another major force: a challenge to government’s basic legitimacy that would have been hard to imagine ten or even five years ago. We saw it in the 2016 armed occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Some say it’s playing out on the national level as the Executive Branch refuses to comply with lawful subpoenas and other orders from the Legislative Branch. And we’re seeing it right now as I sit amidst of cluster of Democratic Senators, without a Republican in sight, wanting to finish our constitutionally-required work. When Republicans essentially say “never mind that policies like HB 2020 resulted from which legislators the voters chose; the only way we have to protect Oregonians is to shut down the Legislature,” they are starkly challenging the legitimacy of government. I think the Mail Tribune editorial got it right. 

How does all this end? The walk-out, the 2019 session, the healing of America’s deep civic wound? I’ll be sure to tell you the minute I figure it out. Right now I’m polishing up a Senate floor speech for the day we get to vote on HB 2020, and may it come soon. Let me share with you how I’ll end it: 

One last thought: The popular writer and speaker Drew Dellinger begins his poem “Hieroglyphic Stairway” with these lines: 

“It’s 3:23 in the morning and I’m awake because my great great grandchildren won’t let me sleep. My great great grandchildren ask me in dreams, “What did you do while the planet was plundered? What did you do when the earth was unraveling.  Surely you did something when the seasons started failing? What did you do once you knew?” WHAT DID YOU DO ONCE YOU KNEW? 

Mr. President…colleagues..In the highly possible event that a young person you love asks you that question in 10 or 20 years (and it might be sooner),one answer you could give is “I was part of creating a program for the state of Oregon that helped turn American energy policy around in a way that made a huge difference.” Or the honest answer might have to be “I seriously CONSIDERED taking action when I was in the Oregon legislature…I thought about it long and hard…but in the end there was just too much UNCERTAINTY. ”  In the next hour or so, you well may determine which answer you can give.  

Thank you, colleagues, for your attention today. And…now that we know, what will we do? 

Missing Republicans

Photo courtesy of The Oregonian

**(Here I want to say what I always say when we talk about the economic upsides of this plan, which are based on the experience of other states and provinces and summarized in a study called the BEAR report: the fact that this bill would bring Oregon extraordinary economic opportunities doesn’t mean the economic road ahead will be easy and smooth. We, and all of America, have tough challenges ahead in the necessary shift away from fossil fuels. HB 2020 gives us a good framework—one I think other states will soon wish they had—for targeted economic investments to share the burden fairly. The larger point is that the road ahead will much, much rougher—endless fire and crippling smoke and failing businesses in our region, different disasters elsewhere--if we shy away from bold action now.) 

What Do You Think?

Last week: I asked for your thoughts on what we should spend any extra revenue on from this session. You overwhelmingly wrote in in support of funding mental health services, reducing the cost of higher education, and paying down PERS. Here's what some of you wrote in:

  • "My answer: pay down PERS. I’m enormously sympathetic to the problem of steep increases in tuition prices, but our unfunded PERS liability is a driver behind those increases, as well as increases in the costs of all education as well as other state programs."
  • "I think using any “leftover” revenue at the end of this year’s session to reduce student tuition at SOU is a wonderful idea. I was talking to a student last week who works in my garden pulling weeds to help her get through school. She told me about the hard financial realities facing young people her age. We need to make sure our college students are able to finish school without crippling debt. They are our future and Oregon needs them so much right now."

Thank you for your input.

We'll hold off on a new What Do You Think? for this week. We've got enough to chew on right now.

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Our best to you for now. Please remember to do what you can do.


Senator Jeff Golden
Chair, Campaign Finance Committee 
Senate District 3 (Rogue Valley)

Capitol Phone: 503-986-1703
Capitol Address: 900 Court St NE, S-421, Salem, OR, 97301
Podcast: Capitolizing