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MIA Oregon Senate Republicans Won't Return To Work Even If It Costs Them Their Jobs
Call it 'very loud quitting.'
Oregon Republicans had high hopes for the 2022 midterms. They seriously believed that they might flip the state Senate for the first time in decades. There was also the very real possibility that Republican Christine Drazan (with the help of third party "independent" candidate Betsy Johnson) might win the governor's race, ending a 35-year Democratic streak. However, there was no major "red wave" and Republicans had to content themselves with flipping a single seat in the Senate. Democrats no longer had a supermajority in the Senate, but they were still able to pass forward-thinking bills on abortion, gun safety, and LGBTQ rights. That's democracy for you, and Republicans can't stand it.
They walked off the job a month ago, denying Democrats the quorum necessary to conduct business. First, they claimed this was in protest over the the majority of bills requiring too much fancy book learning. However, they've mostly admitted now that their goal is to block passage of legislation protecting reproductive rights and expanding gender-affirming care.
Gov. Tina Kotek tried reasoning with Republican leaders, but those talks broke down when Republicans insisted that they wanted House Bill 2002 killed. As Oregon Public Broadcasting reports, HB 2002 would "require Medicaid and private insurers to cover more procedures under the umbrella of gender-affirming care, and would allow minors of any age to get an abortion without needing to notify a parent, among other policies."
“I’m very disappointed with where we are,” Kotek told OPB. “We are at an impasse with one month left [in the legislative session]. At the end of the day yesterday, [Senate Republican Leader Tim] Knopp was: ‘Well, we appreciate the effort, but if we don’t see 2002 amended or killed, we’re done talking.' And that’s where we are.”
OPB curiously describes HB 2002 as "polarizing," even though it passed the House 36 to 23 and would easily pass in the Senate, where Democrats hold 17 seats to the Republicans' 12 (a right-leaning independent technically brings the number to 13). Republicans don't just want to see HB 2002 dead. They also want to kill 20 House bills they consider "hyper partisan," a term that means very little in this context. The Oregon Legislature is heavily Democratic. A clear minority demanding a permanent veto on legislation that an overwhelming majority supports is not democracy. It's a twisted form of conservative "affirmative action."
Senate Republicans will apparently Netlix and chill until the June 25 deadline to wrap up the legislative session. They plan to return of a final day "marathon" to pass a budget and any policy bills they consider "bipartisan" (i.e. the ones the conservative minority supports).
Oregon Senate President Rob Wagner plans to fine the MIA Republicans $325 a day starting Monday, and the walkout has potentially cost them their jobs. Last year, a whopping two-thirds of Oregonians supported Measure 113, which disqualifies lawmakers from serving another term if they have 10 unexcused absences in a single session. Measure 113 was the clear will of the majority in every state Senate district, as well as 34 of Oregon’s 36 counties.
However, the Republicans aren't interested in accepting any actual consequences for their supposed civil disobedience. They sent a letter to the acting secretary of state claiming that the language in the "stop Republicans from walking out on legislative sessions" bill was "misleading."
“We acknowledge that the voters pamphlet material relating to Measure 113 suggests the result that the Senate President has announced. But, that material was misleading and portions were outright incorrect. The ballot title was never subject to a Supreme Court challenge,” the letter read, in part. “To reach the result described in the voters pamphlet, a court would need to either ignore the words in the actual text of M113 or interpret them in a way that is totally inconsistent with the ‘context’ of other constitutional provisions.”
And if that bullshit doublespeak doesn't work, Republicans are prepared to whine about how Measure 113 tramples their "free speech" rights. Sandy Chung, executive director of the ACLU of Oregon, which actually knows something about the First Amendment, dismissed this argument.
Chung said, "We engaged in a legal review [before the measure passed last year], including seeing if there were any First Amendment issues […] and determined that it wasn’t a substantive issue.” And when Republicans bailed in May, the ACLU of Oregon, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, and Basic Rights Oregon proactively consulted an independent law firm which confirmed the Republicans have no case .
However, at this point, they have nothing left to lose so may feel they might as well take out HB 2002 and any other pending Democratic bills on their way out. That's not how democracy is supposed to work, but it's how Republicans govern.
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