NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

Oregon Republicans flee Salem again, forcing the State House and Senate to shut down

Repub­li­can mem­bers of the Ore­gon State Leg­is­la­ture have once again exe­cut­ed a Trumpian maneu­ver and fled the state­house in Salem to deny Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­er­ship the abil­i­ty to con­duct busi­ness in both the House and Sen­ate.

By weaponiz­ing the Ore­gon Con­sti­tu­tion’s quo­rum require­ments, in a move straight out of the play­book of Mitch McConnell, Repub­li­cans have brought the Beaver State’s leg­isla­tive branch to a halt at a time when it is sup­posed to be tack­ling press­ing issues fac­ing the state… like cli­mate dam­age:

The state’s under­staffed child wel­fare pro­gram, over­bur­dened psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal, near­ly broke forestry depart­ment and oth­er pro­grams all bad­ly need the mon­ey, law­mak­ers said. House Speak­er Tina Kotek wants $120 mil­lion to pay for shel­ters and oth­er ser­vices to address the state’s home­less­ness cri­sis, includ­ing using debt to pay for afford­able hous­ing preser­va­tion and con­struc­tion.

Now it looks increas­ing­ly unlike­ly those pri­or­i­ties will receive funds, because near­ly all the Repub­li­cans in the Sen­ate and House walked out of the Capi­tol this week to halt a green­house gas cap-and-trade bill. In doing so, they are pre­vent­ing Democ­rats and the two Repub­li­cans who stuck around — Rep. Cheri Helt and Sen. Tim Knopp, both of Bend — from pass­ing bills to appro­pri­ate the mon­ey, because they can­not reach the state’s con­sti­tu­tion­al two-thirds quo­rum require­ment nec­es­sary to con­duct busi­ness.

As the excerpt above alludes, Democ­rats have super­ma­jori­ties in both cham­bers, but need at least a few of Repub­li­cans around in order to con­duct busi­ness, because of the fol­low­ing pro­vi­sion in the Ore­gon Con­sti­tu­tion:

Arti­cle IV, Sec­tion 12. Quo­rum; fail­ure to effect orga­ni­za­tion. Two thirds of each house shall con­sti­tute a quo­rum to do busi­ness, but a small­er num­ber may meet; adjourn from day to day, and com­pel the atten­dance of absent mem­bers. A quo­rum being in atten­dance, if either house fail to effect an orga­ni­za­tion with­in the first five days there­after, the mem­bers of the house so fail­ing shall be enti­tled to no com­pen­sa­tion from the end of the said five days until an orga­ni­za­tion shall have been effect­ed.

By play­ing hooky en masse, Repub­li­cans are effec­tive­ly shut­ting down the part of state gov­ern­ment that is respon­si­ble for mak­ing laws and set­ting bud­gets.

It’s a hostage-tak­ing move that they first pulled last year, and it was suc­cess­ful in killing off cli­mate action leg­is­la­tion cham­pi­oned by Gov­er­nor Kate Brown.

Now the Repub­li­cans are back at it.

In even num­bered years, the Ore­gon Leg­is­la­ture only meets for about a month, so the clock is tick­ing to get bud­gets and bills passed. Repub­li­cans know this, and are using Mitch McConnell/Donald Trump/Ted Cruz hostage tak­ing style tac­tics to sab­o­tage the work of the peo­ple’s elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Salem.

I’m dis­ap­point­ed that Repub­li­cans in both the House and Sen­ate have walked off the job,” Gov­er­nor Kate Brown said in a state­ment. “Good law­mak­ing comes from con­sen­sus and com­pro­mise. If you don’t like a bill, then show up and work to make it bet­ter. Or show up and cast your vote against it.”

If you are a Wash­ing­ton­ian, you might be won­der­ing why Repub­li­cans in the Ever­green State have nev­er tried this hostage-tak­ing maneu­ver them­selves.

The answer is that Wash­ing­ton’s Con­sti­tu­tion states that a quo­rum of the Leg­is­la­ture is just a major­i­ty. So if the Repub­li­cans fled Olympia and refused to do their jobs, the Democ­rats could sim­ply shrug and car­ry on with­out them, pass­ing bills and bud­gets. Repub­li­cans out of pow­er in Wash­ing­ton State can­not shut down the Leg­is­la­ture by run­ning away and duck­ing their oblig­a­tions.

But in Ore­gon, the Repub­li­cans can weaponize the quo­rum require­ment.

The Ore­gon Con­sti­tu­tion should be amend­ed to stip­u­late that a quo­rum of the Leg­is­la­ture is a major­i­ty like it is north of the Colum­bia Riv­er and in Con­gress.

It makes no sense that the state’s plan of gov­ern­ment gives a frac­tion of its law­mak­ers the abil­i­ty to bring the peo­ple’s busi­ness to a com­plete halt by refus­ing to show up for work. Since a major­i­ty is suf­fi­cient to pass bills; a major­i­ty should be suf­fi­cient for the pur­pos­es of con­ven­ing floor ses­sions and hold­ing debates.

In Ore­gon, con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ments can be intro­duced and adopt­ed via bal­lot mea­sure, some­thing else Wash­ing­ton’s Con­sti­tu­tion does­n’t allow.

That would seem to be the eas­i­est path to poten­tial­ly fix­ing this huge­ly prob­lem­at­ic and struc­tur­al flaw in the Ore­gon Con­sti­tu­tion.

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