Do What You Can Do February 27, 2020

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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 the 2020 Walkout edition of Do What You Can Do

If you are seriously puzzled about events in Salem this week, you are far from alone. The purpose of today’s newsletter is to shine some light on this sad murky chapter of Oregon State government. The links below will take you to what I see as high-quality information at a time when competing “facts” are stupefying Oregonians and paralyzing the Legislature.

Senator Riley Along the Senate Floor

Senator Riley Along on the Floor, courtesy of The Oregonian

As I write, business in both the House and Senate has been shut down by walk-outs that leave us short of the 2/3 quorum. In the days before they left, Republican senators gave floor speeches that picked up last year’s theme: the climate bill would destroy/devastate/decimate rural Oregon. They read proclamations from rural County Commissioners opposing the bill. One from Jackson County (I heard about it for the first time when Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger, R-Grants Pass, read it on the Senate Floor) talks generally about big cost increases ahead and “punitive impacts” on the citizens of Jackson County. I’ve asked Commissioners for specifics; what content in the bill or related economic analysis (not partisan talking points) led to their conclusions? None has been offered so far.

So what’s true? Let’s start with an un-slanted, clear overview from The Salem Reporter. And here’s a shorter fact sheet that summarizes best estimates on what the bill would cost Oregonians (full disclosure: this information was compiled by the Democratic Senate caucus). Every independent source that’s weighed in agrees that cost increases will be dramatically lower than the “devastation/destruction” narrative claims. And as The Oregonian’s comment in the fact sheet points out, low-to-middle income residents will be shielded even from those. Concerns for the rural economy also led us to exempt diesel for farm and forest equipment from the program. All in all, the final bill does a good job of addressing one of my big concerns from the beginning: firmly protecting working families and economically vulnerable people, who so often bear most of the burden in the course of transitions like this.

Climate Rally at the Capitol

Climate Rally at the Capitol

I’m not saying that SB 1530 comes with no costs at all; if that were true, it would do nothing at all to shift our economy off fossil fuel dependence. And while months of work went into distributing any cost burden as fairly as possible, the constant focus on the cost of action can obscure a question we have to ask: what is the cost of inaction? My colleague Representative Pam Marsh spoke to that well in her recent online post.

Logger Truck Protest

One of the log trucks that came to the Timber Unity Rally last year

It has to be frustrating for citizens to sort through thickets of contradictory “facts” on issues this complex. I’ll simply say that Rep. Marsh and I and our colleagues have done everything we can to find and study the best and least slanted information for this decision. Which bring us to the question that’s come front and center this session: should we legislators be the ones to make this decision? Or should Oregonians as a whole vote on it?

Oregonians already have. When I ran for the Senate in 2018, climate action was the single most discussed issue, as it was in districts across the state. It came up in every interview, debate, candidate forum and house party I can remember. Each time I said the same thing: I want to go to Salem to move as fast and decisively as we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in ways that can boost Oregon’s economy. To those who said we should go slow with something this ambitious, I said we’ve gone slow for about thirty years too long already, and that every year’s delay narrows the odds of handing our children a livable planet.

My election opponent disagreed and made it clear she wouldn’t support legislation like this. After months of this conversation, District 3 voters chose me by a wide margin to represent them in Salem. And nobody said anything like “Sure, go up there and work on this issue and then bring us options back for us to vote on.”

Southern Oregon Climate Rally

Southern Oregon folks at a Climate Rally outside the Capitol

What I took voters to be saying in my race, in line with my understanding of how representative democracy works, is more like “we’re hiring you to work on the issues in Salem, to research and study and listen hear diverse views about them to a degree that’s far beyond what our busy lives allow us to do. Then pull all that information together with your best judgment to make a final decision.” I believe that’s what the Founders had in mind when they gave us a republic.

I hear opponents saying that we don’t think Oregonians are smart enough to decide a bill like SB 1530. That’s a time-tested political tactic with the single goal of enraging people (an effective one, judging from some recent emails). Tactics aside, it’s unmistakably clear that we’re not smarter than Oregon citizens at large. Let me say that again: WE’RE NOT SMARTER. What we generally are, because we’re afforded dozens of hours and staff experts to assess and analyze every angle of a bill like this, is better informed. That’s part of the job description. That's why we have a representative democracy.

Senator Golden at work in Salem

Some of the brilliant and exceptional folks I get to work with in the Capitol

Over the course of this session I’ve heard hundreds of Oregonians testify on SB 1530 (my recent Mail Tribune op-ed describes some of that experience). From those who oppose it, I heard again and again that it will cost the average family $4000-$7000 every year. Well, no, the best non-partisan estimate is zero (for most low-income Oregonians) to $400. We heard several people say their cars or trucks would be confiscated for polluting too much. No, the bill does nothing remotely related to that. Again and again we heard sweeping charges that it will destroy rural economies. What we know is that every state and province with similar programs has seen more business start-ups and family-wage job growth, mostly connected to renewable energy opportunities, than their neighbors. We also know that revenue from the program can go to vital water and community improvement projects that have gone begging for decades for lack of funding.

I could go on, but the main point is simple: it’s not reasonable to expect Oregonians to put aside their lives for the many long hours it takes to cut through this noisy jungle of disinformation. With that in mind, and knowing that waiting for an election (pushing the program’s launch off a year or more) would be Excuse #912 for delaying action that should have begun decades ago, I’m keeping faith with the people who elected me. I’m ready to vote SB 1530 into law. If the voters of District 3 think that I have our contract wrong, or don’t think much of my overall judgment, they’ll replace me with someone else. And should.

Senator Golden Swearing In

Photo courtesy of OPB

I close with some sadness at where we find ourselves. Oregon seems for the moment in the grip of minority rule. Those of us still in the building are frustrated as sound, sometimes life-saving legislation crafted by both parties pile up in committees because of the shutdown. Legislators outside the building are likely feeling out on a limb, needing concessions that we can’t give them--without doing more damage to Oregon governance--to come back to work. Thousands of Oregonians, hurt badly by the big timber disruption thirty years ago, have been scared into thinking they’re about to be hit again. While we’re fiercely determined to make sure that doesn’t happen, the truth is that we can't know every detail of the journey away from fossil fuels. What we know is that we have to take it.

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?
as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?
did you fill the streets with protest
when democracy was stolen?
what did you do

                        --Drew Dellinger

Surise at the Capitol

Sunrise at the Capitol, courtesy of ODOT

If you’d like to help ease this conflict,
please consider forwarding this newsletter to anyone you know who cares about this issue, or wants a  state legislature that can function. Now and then, we hear from a citizen whose initial opposition to the climate bill was reversed after they read some of what I’ve included here. I won’t say that happens every day, but for open-minded Oregonians honestly trying to understand the issue—and there are plenty of them—getting this material out matters.

Thanks for this, and for doing what you can do.


Senator Jeff Golden
Chair, Wildfire Reduction and Recovery Committee 
Senate District 3 (Rogue Valley)

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