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Raft of Loons Assemble in Salem

Rules? … in a knife fight? Where’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?

Just when you thought that the only strange birdwatching this time of year occurred at the Malheur Refuge — two strange red and blue flocks were spotted last week at the state Capitol. 

By the end of February, observers will decide whether it’s a murder of crows, a conspiracy of ravens or simply a cover of coots. After just one week in session, Salem’s Statesman-Journal blasted both parties for their utter lack of statesmanship and political courage. However, blaming Democrats for a “deplorable” high school graduation rate because they have “run the Legislature for several years now” fails to acknowledge the historic lack of support Republicans have shown for adequate education funding. R’s continuously blocked every imaginable revenue-raising measure in the House “for several years now.” 

The Republican message for the session is a monotone: Oregon is a one party state, so we won’t cooperate. The Oregon Republican Party’s latest email from last week says it all with catatonic alliteration: “Kate-Kotek-Courtney continue Kitzhaber Culture Of Corruption.” Can you say “Kumbaya”? 

The R’s would have you believe Oregon’s failure in high school graduation rates has nothing to do with adequate school funding. They fail to mention that Democrats never had the 60 percent supermajority needed to pass revenue measures without House Republican support. Republicans who do have the guts to support fair taxes face almost certain removal in their next primary. Without a 60 percent majority in the House, Democrats don’t control squat. But the Journal is right: Political courage is indeed the rara avis in Salem.

Yes, the Democrats will roll the Republican minority in this short session. The D’s have already produced a reasonable three-tiered response to the union’s threat of a $15 minimum wage ballot measure. Businesses and R’s can scream their bloody heads off, but polling shows these measures have strong public support, including the $15 proposal. This is definitely a game of chicken. But pulling stunts like forcing bills to be read word for word, grinding the process to a halt, is correctly perceived as chickenshit (except when our side does it). 

In fairness to the Republicans, there is a legitimate argument that these short February sessions in even-numbered years were intended to focus on the budget and state “emergencies.” Democrats would be singing the same tune if they were in the minority. According to Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, if obstructionism benefits the people of Oregon it’s the right thing to do. Well, at least he’s not armed. Oh, wait: He is. Oh, dear.

On the other hand, proponents of the $15 minimum wage believe low wage jobs are a state emergency. If you work in downtown Portland and have to commute two hours each way because you don’t earn enough to buy or rent any closer, you might view affordable housing as a state emergency too. 

Global warming, coal emissions, climate change might not constitute an emergency in the eyes of the Art Robinson deniers, but most of the scientific community in the world disagrees. And if you’re the family of an innocent victim of firearm violence committed by someone who could have been screened out through a background check, then access issues might also fit your definition of a state emergency. 

These short legislative sessions are new to Oregon — this is only the third one — so there are no protocols, no historic precedence to determine which bills move in a quick 35-day session. Ferrioli and House Minority Leader Mike McLane can obstruct and obfuscate all they want. 

We Democrats were no different when we were in the minority and the Republicans were stuffing bad environmental bills, bad workers’ rights bills and insufficient budgets down our throats. Remember Dr. No? We would sneak out of the Capitol right before a floor session started and deny the other side a quorum or the ability to move a bill. We were once accused of hiding in the Capitol’s dome when we were really having a caucus dinner in the back room of La Margarita Mexican Restaurant downtown. 

And we didn’t feel like we were being obstructionists because, like the Republicans today, we were fighting with the only tools we thought we had. In our case, we chose absence. Ah, those were the days of true statesmanship. Sorta.

One final note to Cliven Bundy and his boys: Welcome to Oregon, fellers! Enjoy your stay! Anyway, Cliven, I don’t want to seem unfriendly, but please keep in mind former Governor Tom McCall’s kindly advice: “Come visit, but don’t stay!”