When we saw the reaction to the walkout by Democratic legislators in Texas, we immediately wondered how that compared to the reaction of Republican walkouts in Oregon.
Different states. Different party. Different issues. Different people.
In both cases, though, a party walked out to stop the other party from taking action. In both cases barking choruses proclaimed injustice. And in both cases, many people focus on where they land on the issues touching off the walkouts.
In Oregon the walkout issues have been related to climate change and a business tax, among others. The Democrats have been in power. And the Republicans walked out in 2019, essentially killed the session in 2020 and walked out for one day in the 2021 session.
In Texas the issue this year has been a voting access bill. The Republicans have been in power. Democrats walked out to block it, calling the bill “Jim Crow 2.0.”
The reactions were similar.
When the Republicans walked out in Oregon in 2020, Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said Republicans were taking a “taxpayer-funded vacation.”
“We were all elected by the voters to represent our communities, and to be the voice of our constituents in the capitol,” she said in a statement. “Republicans signed up for this. If they don’t like a bill, then they need to show up and change it, or show up and vote no.”
What we find revealing about the reaction to walkouts in Oregon or wherever is to look back again at what Brown said in 2001. She was the leader of the Senate Democrats. Oregon House Democrats walked out in a redistricting battle. Brown said the action was “very appropriate under the circumstances.”
“Under certain circumstances, it’s fair to say we would use all the tools available to us,” she added.
She was right. Many of us would. The principles of the legislation involved would have to be weighed against the principles of shutting down the government.
In Oregon in one walkout, Republicans said they wanted climate change legislation to go to the ballot. They argued Democrats were not listening to their concerns about the impact of the bill. They walked out. And after some delay, much of what was in that climate change legislation is still coming to Oregon.
In Texas, a version of the voting bill would have magnified the power of partisan poll watchers, banned 24-hour voting, drive-thru voting and required polling places not to open before 1 p.m. on Sundays. Democrats walked out. The bill is dead for now. Similar changes may only be delayed.
We could bemoan politicians for their costly experimentation with political brinkmanship. And we aren’t claiming there is equivalency between the Oregon climate change bill and the Texas voting bill. But if you were a legislator, couldn’t you conceive a situation where you would walkout to at least delay a bill?
The more immediate question for Oregonians is if the rules for walkouts should be shifted. Several ballot measures have been floated. One would disqualify legislators from office after their current term expires if they miss repeated floor sessions. Another would prohibit legislators from the use of political campaign contributions for things associated with losses from unexcused absences. A third would dock legislative pay for unexcused absences and allow the Legislature to function with a simple majority, rather than the existing requirement of a two-thirds majority. There are more variations.
You may get a chance to sign petitions for those ballot measures or even vote on them in the November 2022 election.