Do you think Gov. Kate Brown should do more to get schools to reopen? Do you think more should be done to vaccinate seniors sooner?
Do you think the state should look to speed up reopening of businesses?
Those are reasons why Oregon Senate Republicans walked out on Thursday. They say their efforts to get Brown’s attention to these issues have gone unacknowledged. So they walked out to get her attention.
Yes, they got her attention. But Republicans didn’t compel her to make any changes. And we can’t imagine she will fundamentally change her approach.
Perhaps Senate Republicans did succeed in a few ways. Just getting people’s attention these days takes more than making a speech. The walkout got the Oregon public’s attention for at least a news cycle. And in that moment Republicans highlighted what the difference might be if they were governing.
They also reminded their fellow legislators that they still have the power to shut down the making of new laws.
Oregon is one of only a handful of states that requires by its constitution that two-thirds of lawmakers must be on the Senate floor and the House floor for work to be done. The narrow Democratic margin in the Senate means the Democratic majority is not walkout-proof. A walkout is some of the only raw power Republicans in Oregon really have.
For how long? Will voters tire of this tactic? It seems inevitable that through a bill or an initiative a measure will be put on the ballot for a constitutional amendment to change Oregon’s quorum rules to a simple majority.
That might not be something to celebrate. Yes, it would work in the favor of Democrats now. It is, though, one of the few tools to prevent a tyranny of a simple majority. Oregon voters are roughly evenly split between Democrats, unaffiliated voters and Republicans — in that order. There is probably far more that unites Oregonians than divides them. On some issues at least, majority opinion is slim or hard to find.
Democrats hold power now. They may not always. Democrats have used the power of the walkout before, in 1971, 1995 and 2001.
In these unsettled times, Oregonians need legislators and a governor who find ways to work together, not write new exclusionary rules.