SALEM — With the Legislature gone until next year, lawmakers can’t be blamed for the hot air filling the Capitol this month. Ramped-up renovation of the 80-year-old statehouse is the culprit: The air conditioning is off until July 29, and the whole place is closed to the public from Friday through Monday.
Despite the hot, noisy and dusty workplace, items of political interest continue to waft out of the Capitol. A few from this week:
Lawmakers pass on dogs and grass
Most legislation is born of hope in January and dies of neglect by the end of June. That was especially true this year for a traditional type of resolution. Sweet to some, an eye-rolling waste of time to others, these efforts seek to have some item, animal, plant or place designated the “official state” this or that.
In 2019, it was grass and dogs.
Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 5, to name basin wildrye the official state grass.
Rep. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, sought approval for House Concurrent Resolution 7, to name the border collie as the state dog.
Both were introduced Jan. 14 and sent to committees. Both faced indifference from legislative leaders. Winter turned to spring and spring turned to summer. Still no hearings, no votes. “We do not anticipate HCR 7 moving,” said Findlay’s chief of staff, Tiffany Bennett, in early June.
She was right. When the gavel dropped June 30, Oregon remained without an official dog. Or grass. For now.
The part-time Legislature means most lawmakers have other jobs besides the one in Salem. The 2019 Legislature included the usual roster of attorneys, small-business owners, farmer/ranchers, educators and retirees.
New to the job list is Uber driver.
Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, took up driving part time for the ride-share company after the 2018 session.
“I only drive during the interim,” Post said. “I drive a 2017 GMC Sierra. I pretty much drive every day. I don’t do nights, so I don’t have to pick up drunks. I greatly enjoy it, and yes, the little bit of extra money it brings in is helpful. I don’t get much because I don’t drive to Portland.”
Capture the flag
Post is also the unofficial umpire on who gets the Liberty Flag, a trophy consisting of an Oregon state flag on a wooden base. It’s given to any House member who is a solo “no” vote on a piece of legislation. Both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans earned the flag during the 2019 session.
“I think this year it was pretty even between Ds and Rs on holding it, sometimes for days, sometimes for minutes,” Post said.
The rapid voting on hundreds of measures in the final days of the session led to sometimes hurried swaps of the flag multiple times in one day.
Post said the final no vote of the year was cast by Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, who will hold the Liberty Flag until the 2020 session starts in February.
As the fame of the Liberty Flag spread this year, Post suspects that not all solo votes were made out of ideological fervor.
“Yes, MANY voted ‘no’ just to get the flag,” Post said in a Twitter post. “I am needing to institute new rules on this. The point was to ‘fly solo’ on a bill that NO ONE would vote no on.”
Convention or Capitol?
Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, had the worst attendance record of Central Oregon lawmakers during the 2019 session of the Legislature, according to tabulations by The Oregonian newspaper.
Linthicum missed 157 votes — 18% of all cast. His district includes the southeastern third of Deschutes County and all of Crook County.
Linthicum was one of 11 GOP senators who left Salem on June 20 to block a vote on a carbon-cap bill they opposed. When the impasse ended after nine days, the Senate held a marathon two-day session to pass over 100 bills before the June 30 deadline to adjourn. Linthicum missed both days, accounting for the bulk of his absences. Jonathan Lockwood, Linthicum’s spokesman, said the senator was in Memphis speaking to the Young Americans for Liberty, a conservative group holding its annual convention. Lockwood blamed Democrats for causing the Senate session to run late, causing a collision on Linthicum’s calendar between the convention and the Capitol. “This was long-scheduled, and committed to,” Lockwood said. “He couldn’t disappoint these young activists simply because the Democrats broke their pledge.”
Attendance records all around
Of the four House members and three senators who represent a portion of Deschutes County, The Oregonian said Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, and Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, had perfect attendance, missing no votes. Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, missed four votes and Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, missed 22 votes. Bentz (the champion of basin wildrye) missed 36 votes and Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, missed 55 votes.
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