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Capital Chatter: Two takes on the walkout

The 'Oregon 11' are either a band of heroes or a group of shirkers, depending on your perspective.

The popular narrative around the Oregon Capitol and much of the Willamette Valley is that 11 Republican state senators shirked their constitutional responsibilities by twice walking out on the 2019 Legislature.

But to most of the state — "most" as in geography, not population — the Oregon 11 is a band of heroes. On Wednesday, the Oregon Family Farm Association came to the Capitol to show its gratitude.

Lawmakers were at the Capitol this week for three days of committee hearings known as Legislative Days.

Matt Cyrus, a Redmond farmer and the organization's president, said the carbon cap and trade provisions contained in House Bill 2020 would have been devastating to rural Oregon and folks who rely on Oregon's natural resources to make a living. By walking out, the Republicans deprived the Senate of a quorum to conduct business and pass any bills, including HB 2020.

"Anybody in the natural resource sector is under attack with this type of legislation, and so it's our honor to do what we can to help protect you guys," said Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr.

"And we appreciate it," responded Cyrus.

During the walkouts, the association posted online a photo collage of the Republican senators. The image garnered 117,00 "likes" on social media. As a thank you, the group gave framed copies of the collage to the senators.

Sens. Bill Hansell of Athena also delivered to the Oregon Republican Caucus the award that he and Sen. Cliff Bentz of Ontario accepted from the Oregon Wheat Growers League on behalf of the caucus.

On Monday, the framing was different as Portland-based Renew Oregon, youth climate activists and Union of Concerned Scientists decried the Republican walkout and the failure of the 2019 Legislature to pass HB 2020.

Tara Hurst, the executive director of Renew Oregon, said at the press conference that lawmakers came within hours of passing a climate-protection bill that had been in the works for more than 10 years. "Next year, in 2020, the state will not come up short again," she said. "We're not taking any chances this time."

Environmental organizations are preparing ballot measures for signature-gathering if the 2020 Legislature does not act. Hurst also said they would ask Gov. Kate Brown to use her executive authority to enact carbon emission limits, as she has vowed to do.

The press conference was smart politics:

• Advocates want to keep up the momentum.

• If meaningful negotiations are going on behind the scenes, advocates do not want the negotiators to come out with new legislation that is severely weaker than what was in HB 2020, also known as Clean Energy Jobs.

• If the negotiations are window dressing, they can portray themselves as fighting hard and being willing to make major concessions.

Without going into specifics, Hurst said the new legislation must ensure Oregon meets its carbon emissions targets, holds the largest polluters accountable, links Oregon to a regional carbon market and invests where the greatest impacts of climate change are being felt.

"If large corporate polluters and their allies don't like the Clean Energy Jobs bill, they're going to hate our ballot measures, because they contain even more clean air protections, Hurst said.

However, the ballot measures are less specific.

What's a good number?: Democrats also are expected to introduce legislation next year that would ask voters to lessen the two-thirds quorum requirement for conducting legislative business. The aim would be to prevent future walkouts.

That possibility was brought up at the recent community gathering held by Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, which I wrote about in last week's Capital Chatter. But participants noted that quorum requirements cut both ways. Democrats in other states have walked out to block action by Republican majorities and supermajorities.

Changing faces of the Oregon Legislature: Two of the Democratic senators who have been publicly identified as opposing HB 2020 have decided against seeking re-election next year — Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay and Laurie Monnes Anderson of Gresham.

Meanwhile, Bentz also plans to resign by Jan. 2 to campaign full time for the 2nd Congressional District seat by Greg Walden. Bentz had been the Republican senator at the legislative negotiations on climate change legislation. Fred Girod of Stayton is now that Republican senator. Whether any Republican actually has a seat at the table or is merely a spectator is up for discussion.

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.