Capital Chatter: The legislative theater always ends the same
If a theatrical play were written about the past few days in the Oregon Capitol, it would be full of drama, tangents and a bit of humor. But the ending would be predictable: The supermajority Democrats had their way in the Legislature.
Well, not everything went as expected. Several Senate Democrats defected and helped defeat a ban on polystyrene containers for takeout food.
Today's warning: Please don't refer to such containers as "Styrofoam," which is a registered trademark of Dow Chemical Co. If you do, the Styrofoam police — i.e., trademark lawyers — will send you a nasty letter. They protect the name so Styrofoam doesn't lose its trademark status and become a common term, as happened with aspirin, thermos and many others.
But I digress …
Anyway, rather than giving you a blow-by-blow description of the past few days – since you already know the ending – I perused legislators' newsletters for the past couple of weeks to give you a sense of what lawmakers are telling the people they represent.
"This legislative session is coming to an end and we can safely say we have killed some extreme bills. That is very good, but, there is still enough time for the supermajority to pass some bad and very ugly bills," wrote Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer.
She was a prime backer of legislation convert Oregon to year-round daylight saving time if Congress gives its approval and both California and Washington go along.
"Senate Bill 320 was not one of my top priorities, but when President Donald Trump and Gov. Kate Brown agree on something, it is no wonder it has captured headlines and moved more quickly than some of my other bills," Thatcher wrote.
"The ugly bills included SB 608, rent control and tenant rights; HB 3427, with its commercial activity tax for funding education improvements; and HB 2020, carbon cap and trade."
Thatcher included this admonition: "Remember, no bad bill is dead until the last Prius leaves the building."
First-term Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, wrote about the late Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, whose memorial service was Thursday afternoon in the Senate chamber.
"I barely knew this remarkable woman, talking with her just a couple of times since I arrived in January. What was clear in the quietly sad days this past week was the deep and genuine affection that so many legislators held for her," Golden wrote.
"In our daily caucus meeting, Democratic senators shared their memories about her. During the uncharacteristically long silences between the stories, I thought I felt my colleagues, unrushed for a change, reflecting on what truly matters.
"It's not a common reflection for many of us during the frenzy of the legislative session. I wonder how much would change if it were."
Golden also addressed the SB 1049, which is the PERS legislation that narrowly passed the Senate — he voted against it – and was failing in the House, 29-31, before Democratic Reps. Mitch Greenlick of Portland and Andrea Salinas of Lake Oswego switched their votes.
"Speaker (Tina) Kotek called a recess and took a few of the 'no' Democrats to her office behind the dais. When she gaveled the House back to order 30 minutes later, two upstate representatives rose to change their votes to 'yes,' passing the bill 31-29," Golden wrote.
"This is not what you call elegant law-making. Nobody I talked to knows just what happened in that back room, but it couldn't have been pretty."
On the other side of the issue, Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, distributed her vote explanation for supporting SB 1049, including: "I am a longtime labor advocate, education champion and spouse of a PERS Tier 1 employee, and I voted yes on SB 1049A because I care about protecting the defined benefit pension of current and future public employees, and creating a more fair and stable revenue and fiscal structure for the state and for all Oregonians."
In his newsletter, Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, included this summary: "While some major bills have been tabled, including SB 978 (gun safety), after a deal was struck between the Governor and Senate Republicans, other important policies have advanced, he wrote.
Rep. David Gomberg, D-Otis, hit on what many folks inside and outside the Capitol are looking forward to:
"The clock is ticking! Legislative leadership has announced that Sine Die, the last day of legislative session, is imminent. While we have a constitutional requirement to be adjourned by June 30, leadership in both the House and Senate have been working with a goal of wrapping things up by June 21. Of the thousands of bills introduced back in January, only a few are still making their way through the process.
Disclaimer: Speaker Kotek told reporters this week that she expects Sine Die to occur closer to the 30th.
In a newsletter headlined "Tomfoolery," Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, wrote about SB 870, which Gov. Kate Brown signed into law in public ceremony Wednesday.
"The National Popular Vote (NPV) is another leg of the progressive movement that is rolling across the US. Simply put, it is part of the scheme to undermine our fair and balanced election process. Although the popular vote initiative sounds reasonable on its surface, the devil is in the details," Linthicum wrote.
After nearly 1,000 words about National Popular Vote, Linthicum wrapped up with his customary ending: "Remember, if we don't stand for rural-Oregon values and common-sense, No one will."
Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, presented the pro and con arguments for House Bill 2001, a controversial proposal from Speaker Kotek to allow "middle housing" — more than single-family houses but less than apartment complexes — in areas traditionally zoned for single-family homes.
"Supporters say HB 2001 is a solution to the housing affordability crisis, while opponents predict speculative redevelopment accompanied by increased demolition of the most-affordable existing housing and more displacement of the most-vulnerable residents. But I'm interested in your opinion and would welcome your comments to my office by phone or email," he wrote.
In a wide-ranging newsletter, Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany, highlighted her House Bill 3446, which would have exempted some basic necessities from the commercial activities tax. She included this hashtag: "DontTaxMyTampons."
(The bill had a short life. The Oregon House on a party-line vote has refused to move her bill along.)
Boshart Davis also told about her newspaper guest opinion that focused on "the lack of media coverage about the women who were involved in the Cap and Trade vote in the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction a couple weeks ago."
Epilogue: This week's newsletter from the Society of Professional Journalists, of which I am a member, included a link that took me to a Harvard Business Review story that reinforces Boshart Davis' point.
The story began: "Around the world, women are far less likely than men to be seen in the media. As subjects of stories, women only appear in a quarter of television, radio, and print news."
The authors analyzed a successful two-year project at the BBC on "tackling the gender representation issue by rethinking whom they put in front of the camera, with the goal of achieving 50:50 gender representation every month."
Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com, Facebook.com/Hughesisms, YouTube.com/DickHughes or Twitter.com/DickHughes.