Oregon Democrats want to further extend their hold on power by changing the rules for the Legislature. Gov. Kate Brown and others have said the state’s rules for a legislative quorum may have to be changed to prevent walkouts from stopping bills in their tracks.
But rule changes should not be the solution whenever the majority party doesn’t get its way.
Twice this past legislative session, Senate Republicans took advantage of the requirement in Oregon for a two-thirds of the Senate or the House to be present for a vote on legislation. The majority that Democrats hold in the Senate is irrelevant if 20 senators don’t show. The Republicans used a walkout first to compel the abandonment of bills on gun control and a vaccine requirement. Then 11 Senators apparently fled the state to shut down House Bill 2020, a climate change bill to create a cap and trade system.
Sure, only three other states also require a two-thirds majority for a quorum. Many only require a majority. Changing just because other states do it, though, is not a good reason.
Some argue that Republicans upended good governance and duty by walking out. It was playing dirty. Was it? Many people didn’t want tightened gun control laws, fewer exemptions for immunizations for children or thought the climate change bill was flawed. Remember, even then-Sen. Kate Brown supported a walkout of House Democrats in 2001 when they didn’t like it when House Republicans were in the majority.
There are two better answers than changing the quorum rules. First, the majority party shouldn’t act like it has the only views that matter. And the second is to change the minds of voters.
Voters elected this Legislature. If they wanted more Democrats, they could have voted that way. If they wanted more Republicans or some other party, they could have voted that way, too. Democrats shouldn’t be aiming to change the rules. They should convince voters to vote for Democrats, just as Republicans should aim to win more seats themselves.