If you're concerned about the state of representative democracy, it should concern you that the Republican senators of the Oregon State Legislature are opting to stay away from the Capitol in the name of opposing a bill aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change. The 11 senators—which include Sen. Tim Knopp, who represents Bend and the surrounding area, say the Cap and Invest legislation, already passed in the Oregon House, will do damage to manufacturing and timber jobs.
- Wikimedia Commons
- Sen. Tim Knopp
Proponents of the bill say HB 2020 will actually grow Oregon's economy. Under a similar Cap and Trade bill, California's economy grew from the 8th-largest world economy to 5th-largest over the past decade, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. In a well-functioning legislature, senators make their arguments, cast votes and go home to their districts to hear if they made the right decisions. Come election time, they get a real-time performance review. That's doesn't seem to be how Oregon Republicans operate.
Unfortunately, Knopp believes that rather than serving his entire district that his role as a senator is to serve Republicans. Here are some of the comments he made to the Oregonian last week, which should give voters in this district pause.
In a story published on OregonLive Thursday, Knopp said, "I feel no constitutional obligation to stand around so they [Democrats] can pass their leftist progressive agenda for Multnomah County that my constituents don't happen to agree with," Knopp stated. "I think that's true for every other Senate district that's out there that's represented by Republicans."
Leaving aside the fact that the other members of the Democratic majority in the Senate are from all across Oregon, let's look at Knopp's district. The number of Knopp's consituents who are Republicans are actually outnumbered by Democrats. According to Oregon Centralized Voter Registration information, there were 32,243 registered Democrats in Senate District 27 as of June 3, along with 31,280 Republicans and 35,773 non-affiliated voters. One would assume, upon taking the position as Senator, Knopp would represent all—or even a majority of—voters in his district.
Sen. Knopp and 10 other senators in this state are abdicating their duties because the voters of Oregon elected people to their districts who do not adhere to these Republicans' vison for Oregon. This tactic by Republicans will have ramifications beyond the climate change bill. Other bills—including ones amending the death penalty laws, and another that would amend zoning laws to allow for duplexes in some areas currently zoned single-family—can't go anywhere without the quorum the 11 senators provide to the Legislature.
While we don't believe walkouts should be an option for any minority in the Legislature, it's especially galling to see this happen over an economic fight. Were this a question of morality—or one that delved into a topic that wasn't so overwhelmingly agreed upon by the majority of Oregonians—it might be a different story. But this is a battle over climate change, and history will bear out that time was indeed running out on taking serious action.
Those 11 Republicans contend that HB 2020's emergency clause doesn't give Oregonians the opportunity to fight back with a referendum. Republicans argue that Oregon doesn't need to be the poster child for environmental leadership on cap and invest programs aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, because our state's contributions are relatively so small on the global scale. But we should not forget that the effort to ban chlorofluorocarbons started right here in our state too—and led to a worldwide ban that effectively saved the ozone layer in the ensuing decades. In addition, more than 100 countries with economies smaller than Oregon's have already taken up the charge. Small efforts add up.
What's more, we should not forget that Oregon's economy is already being negatively affected by climate change. Remember the drops in tourism—a big driver of the local economy—during the summer wildfire seasons of recent years? We do. Here in Bend, the dollars brought in through the transient room tax go directly into the City's general fund—which in turn funds roads, police, fire and other important services.
It's OK in politics to have your ideas be out of favor. Senators should make their case and then vote. If indeed the majority of Oregonians believe that climate change and the process for reducing greenhouse gases is misplaced, the ballot box will tell. Running away and doing nothing is, in general, not a way to win over voters. Tim Knopp should get back to work. Our district depends on you.