Much has been written, discussed, opined, and debated about the denying of a quorum for 9 days, when the 11 Oregon Senate Republicans made the decision to leave. Since I was one of what became known as the “Oregon 11”, and as I have tried to do with every decision I have ever made as an elected official, I want to explain why I did what I did. It is also important to explain the events leading up to that decision.
With all I have read or listened to, especially social media, I have come to the conclusion I am either a hero or a zero. There isn’t much in between. My purpose here is not to debate the merits and flaws of HB2020, the Cap and Trade bill, that precipitated the decision to leave. I personally believe there were huge problems with HB2020 as it was written. But that is not the reason I walked.
My primary reason for leaving was the refusal of the majority party to refer this bill to the people for a vote. Oregonians deserved to be able to vote on this bill. I believed the costs, the impacts, and the insignificant results of actual carbon reduction, needed to be decided by the citizens, not the supermajority of one party.
There were two ways Cap and Trade could have gone to the voters. First, the legislature could have amended the bill to refer it. I believe such a referral was included in several of the 117 proposed amendments offered to the bill but all were turned down by the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction. The second way was for the legislature to remove the infamous “Emergency Clause.” Without getting too far into the weeds, when an emergency clause is attached to a bill it becomes law upon signature of the Governor. It makes it much more difficult for citizens to refer it to the ballot. Technically it is not impossible for the referral but much harder and more difficult. In my opinion, that is why the emergency clause was attached to HB2020. I was hard pressed to see any reason to justify an emergency. There was none.
Without an emergency clause, any bill becomes law six months after the governor signs it. In those six months, signatures can be gathered and a vote taken prior to the bill becoming law. The referendum process is a check and balance Oregonians have on their Legislature. Oregonians have used it to repeal or adopt legislation over the years.
On Tuesday, June 18, a good friend and member of the Senate Democratic leadership came to my office and asked me what it would take to keep me from “walking.” I replied, remove the emergency clause from HB 2020. Let the people have the opportunity to vote on something this monumental. It needs to be on the ballot. That senator indicated that made sense and they would try and see what could be done. I believe my friend tried, but to no avail.
The Republican Caucus was also informed that three of our colleagues across the aisle were no votes, but we were unable to satisfactorily confirm their position. Later, when Senate President Courtney publicly announced he did not have the votes, it set the stage for our return.
Next on Wednesday, June 19, two events happened which might have averted the walkout. The first would have been delaying the second reading of HB2020. The Oregon Constitution requires every bill be read three times before voting on it. The bill is first read by title only and then sent to a committee. If the bill survives the committee process, it comes back to the floor for the second reading again by title only, and the next day it is read for a third time and a vote taken.
Republican leadership urged the Senate President to not second read HB2020 in order for negotiations to continue. However, HB2020 was second read on Wednesday, with the emergency clause intact, and it would be third read the next day, June 20. That meant the walkout was on for Thursday unless negotiations could hammer out something of a compromise.
Three individuals began meeting on Wednesday morning at 10:00am and for the next seven plus hours came up with some kind of a proposal. Those individuals were Senator Cliff Bentz, vice chair of the Carbon Committee, Nik Blosser Chief of Staff for Governor Brown, and Representative Karin Power the Co-Chair of the Carbon Reduction Committee. Two Democrats and one Republican, worked into the early evening. Fifteen minutes after the proposal was presented to Governor Brown, House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney, a call was made to Senator Bentz informing him that the proposal had been rejected. Had either of these two events produced a different result, we would have stayed.
On Wednesday evening the emergency clause remained in HB2020. It would be third read on Thursday, and the citizens, for all practicable purposes, would be denied the opportunity to consider and debate the merits of the bill in the referendum process. I felt this was wrong and I joined my fellow Republican Senators in leaving and denying a quorum on Thursday.
So there you have it, why I decided to leave. If you believe impediments should not have been removed enabling the good people of Oregon the opportunity to vote on this proposed legislation, then we disagree and I’ll continue to be a zero. But at least you know why I did what I did. This is what I owe all my constituents whether I’m a hero or a zero or something in between, and with apologies to Mr. Shakespeare regarding how I answered the question to leave or not to leave.
State Senator Bill Hansell represents District 29. He grew up on a wheat and cattle ranch and he and his wife Margaret live in his hometown of Athena. His Senate District is the size of the State of Maryland, and is the leading Ag producing senate district in the State.