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Disappointing Finish 

Republican walkouts end the 2020 Oregon legislative session early. What now?

In the game of Oregon politics that was the short session this winter, no one wins. Not the Democrats, not the Republicans, not the people of Oregon.

A week and a half ago, most House and Senate Republicans in Salem abandoned their jobs as lawmakers. This is the fifth time in 10 months Republicans have fled the Capitol, denying the Democrats the quorum they need to pass legislation. This time, Republicans protested SB 1530, a greenhouse gas reduction bill (they walked out on a form of this last year, too), revised since last session with more provisions for people who live in rural areas of Oregon.

Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend) alone on the Senate floor on Fri., March 6. - BEN SCHIMMOLLER
  • Ben Schimmoller
  • Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend) alone on the Senate floor on Fri., March 6.

Rep. Jack Zika (R-Redmond) joined Republicans by leaving his post, but Rep. Cheri Helt (R-Bend) and Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Central Oregon) were the only two Republican state legislators to stay.

The Oregon "short session" occurs on even years and is only five weeks long. House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) ended it abruptly Thursday afternoon. Earlier in the week she subpoenaed absent Republicans to the Capitol, but the missing members did not show up Thursday morning. Instead, Kotek received a letter from House Republican Leader Christine Drazan stating Republicans would come back for 12 hours on the last day of the session to pass some funding allocation bills. Kotek didn't buy it. Neither did Gov. Kate Brown who issued a 14-page executive order Tuesday morning that details how the State will cap emmissions on the transportation, industrial and natural gas sectors.

According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, Brown's order is "at once equal to and much broader" than SB 1530. It directs 18 state agencies and commissions to reduce carbon emissions, and includes new standards for building and household appliances, as well as increased infrastructure for electric vehicles.

Lawmakers approved $5 million in emergency funds on Monday to start making rules and regulations. Brown's office has said in the past that an executive order would not be able to raise money for transitioning to a low-carbon economy because the government won't be selling offsets. DEQ will release the final regulations June 30 and the order will go into effect in 2022.

"A Caucus of One"

Rep. Helt published a number of posts on her Facebook page expressing her disappointment over the partisan divide.

"Important priorities for Bend—like housing, homeless funding, education and public safety—were casualties of partisan polarization which has not only gripped our nation, but now Oregon," she wrote Friday.

Helt told the Source Friday evening, as she drove home from Salem, that she was working on some amendments to the Corporate Activity Tax in hopes of having another legislative session in the coming months. (CAT, part of the Student Success Act, passed last year to fund education, and taxes business' total sales over $1 million.)

"It's not over. We have to keep working and be ready; anything could happen," she said. "I'm not a part of the Republican caucus right now. I'm a caucus of one."

Knopp told the Source he stayed in Salem to work on CAT, to oppose SB 1530 in person and continue to push for his legislation that would freeze property taxes for low-income seniors. He said he also wanted to support other bills affecting Central Oregon including a [$13 million] bond for an OSU-Cascades Student Success Center, two additional judges for Deschutes County and funds [$250,000] for the Deschutes Water Basin.

Zika told the Source that he believes that the cap and trade bill should be sent to voters.

"I hear the argument from the majority party that big oil is going to put in a lot of money in oppositional campaigns," he said. "But I don't see why they would have any incentive to do that because there are no refineries here, you can't frack, there's no drilling off the coast.

"Cap and trade is a regressive tax onto low-income families because these companies are going to close, lay people off," he said. "Utility prices will go up."

Zika told the Source Monday that he believed Democrats were at fault because Republicans agreed to come back for 12 hours on the last day to vote on a list of funding priorities the Democrats chose. Zika said he received over 1,000 emails, of which 800 encouraged him to walk out.

Bills Left on the Table

Numerous bills and programs that affect Central Oregon were left unfinished as a result of the walkouts, including:

-$4 million for a navigation center for unhoused people in the region

-$10s of millions for wildfire management and preparation

-Millions for behavioral health services which would benefit Deschutes County Mental / Behavioral Health

-Funds to help unaccompanied youth without homes

Christopher Nichols, associate professor of history at Oregon State University, said the increasing frequency of the Republican walkouts in Oregon are a symbol of the nationalization of state politics.

"This represents a nostalgic vision of Oregon which is not forward-looking, but instead represents the interests of rural communities, timber, trucking... basically a white version and vision of the state, which sustains itself on raw material extraction," Nichols said. "What is fascinating is the contrast: solar and renewable energy, the tech industry and other things that inspire people to come to Oregon."

Knopp was the only one on the Senate floor in Salem on Friday. The rest of his caucus returned Sunday as promised, but didn't pass anything. Helt attended a meeting of the Oregon Emergency Board on Monday to lobby for funds for unhoused unaccompanied youth.

So what's next?

"Working together in a bipartisan way as I have done over the last several sessions to find consensus to bring Oregon together," said Knopp.

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