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Trojan Wolf: Salem's Silly Senate

Where's Will Rogers when we need him?

Just when you thought our Oregon Legislature couldn’t get any more dysfunctional than it was — it did. Senate Republicans took a page from the old Democrat playbook and refused to meet last Wednesday, denying the Senate a quorum. The immediate feedback even from Republicans was that their minority leader Ted Ferrioli’s latest move to obstruct the process backfired from a public relations standpoint, making his caucus look clownish and incompetent. Worse than our Republican U.S. Congress even — a sad comparison.

 After receiving this negative feedback, the senate R’s immediately returned to the floor on Thursday morning. Cowboy humorist Will Rogers once described my gender thusly: “There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by readin’. The few who learn by observation. The rest of ’em have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” 

It only got worse. Ferrioli announced that his caucus would only work banker’s hours — no evening sessions, no weekends. And he also refused to suspend a bygone technologically moribund Senate rule that requires entire bills to be read word for word (Xerox began selling copy machines in 1959) before a vote could be taken. Last Thursday, the Senate slogged through four hours on the floor, managing to vote on 12 bills. The 35-day deadline for this even-year session is March 6, and can only be extended by a two-thirds vote of both chambers. Fat chance. Somebody ought to turn off the electricity before these boys really hurt themselves! Alternatively, piss on ’em.

Anyway, just to demonstrate that neither party has a monopoly on stupidity, listen to this cautionary tale. Will Rogers also said, “I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat.”

It appears Democrat House Speaker Kotek is having better success with her counterpart, minority leader Mike McLane, than Senate President Courtney is having with his. Kotek allowed House Republicans to vote on and pass HB 4040. It’s a bad bill sponsored by ranchers that could interfere with a current lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) decision to de-list wolves as an endangered species. The bill is either a wolf in sheep’s clothing or a Trojan horse; I love mixed metaphors.

 HB 4040 is sponsored by two Eastern Oregon House Republicans on behalf of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and the Oregon Farm Bureau. Many believe that Kotek knew it was a bad bill, but offered it up as a signal to McLane and other more moderate members of his caucus that House D’s could negotiate and give House R’s something they wanted.

HB 4040 puts in statute a requirement that the Legislature ratify last year’s decision by state wildlife agency officials to de-list wolves. Many, including Congressman DeFazio and state Sen. Prozanski, believe the bill could neuter a legal challenge currently before the Oregon Court of Appeals. The lawsuit, brought by the usual suspects — environmentalists and animal rights advocates — contends that ODFW’s decision to de-list was based on bad science, didn’t follow the requirements of the state’s wolf management plan and would increase hunting pressure on wolves. 

HB 4040 was assigned to the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. In a surprise move, committee Chair Chris Edwards, a Democrat, voted with the two Republicans on the committee, Chuck Thomsen and Alan Olsen, to move the bill to the Senate floor for a vote. Two other Democrats on the committee, Prozanski and Michael Dembrow, had concerns that the bill might preclude the Court of Appeals from answering the question of whether ODFW failed to demonstrate it followed its own wolf management plan. Edwards argued that it’s not unprecedented for Oregon lawmakers to weigh in on policy issues instead of having them hashed out through litigation. Prozanski didn’t believe the Legislature should try to attempt to answer such a complicated question in the seven days remaining in this session. So Floyd and Michael filed a minority report.

Holy shit, Batman! Unprecedented scenario! When is the last time two Senate Democrats had to file a minority report to defeat a Republican bill with a Democrat majority in both chambers and a Democrat governor? Senate President Courtney has lost control of his caucus and Gov. Brown is nowhere to be found on this bill, except to weakly defend ODFW. She’s been governor for a year now, so it is actually her agency.

What happens next should be entertaining. As Will Rogers also said: “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” Stay tuned.