GOP flight not long-term solution for rural interests

Even habitually disengaged citizens of Oregon should be aware by now that things are far beyond normal in the state capitol.

The level of rancor and distrust across the aisle is such that the Republicans walked out, nearly en masse, last week, to avoid voting for a measure the urban Democratic super-majority considers hugely important and which the majority of rural residents despise: the cap-and-trade proposal.

That was the GOP’s third such exit from legislative proceedings in less than a year.

The intensity with which the proponents of this bill have rammed it through this year’s short session, frankly, heightens our suspicion that this is more of a money grab, cloaked in clean-air rhetoric, than anything.

It makes a lot of sense that a Democratic lawmaker, elected by urban residents who have been brainwashed with feel-good, often self-serving socialistic propaganda, and who is always willing to find ways to spend the public’s money, particularly if it ensures his or her re-election, will see this as a win-win: Collect money from polluters (who are providing necessary goods and services that fill those urban stores) and portray that action as an effort to establish Oregon as an environmental leader.

Republicans, including our own Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, say they are simply representing their constituents in refusing to vote on the measure. More on that in a moment.

Democratic leaders say the GOP representatives and senators are not doing their jobs. House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) issued a statement last week in which she said she has “routinely reached out to Republicans in a genuine effort to hear their ideas and compromise where we can. My door is always open.”

Frankly, without a reporter regularly in the meeting rooms and hallways of the Capitol, it’s difficult for us to know for sure what the reality is – except that this is a very bad deal for rural residents, who will bear the bulk of the costs of cap-and-trade.

State Dist. 46 Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, a Democrat, last week called the Republican Party’s walkout a “tyranny of the minority,” noting that “Democrats have a super majority in the House and Senate “because we run on platforms (like addressing climate change) that the majority of Oregonians support.”

She bemoaned the two-thirds requirement for a quorum, something that is shared by only three other states, none of which limit the number of days in a session. Oregon does, and that allows the minority party to run out the clock, killing all unapproved bills.

We’d like to argue that this is working as intended, as it should. Democracy can be a little messy sometimes.

Fact is, a bill with the implications that this one has for rural Oregonians should never be on the agenda in a short legislative session. The Legislature’s presumption in doing so is a slap in the face to voters who approved the short session om 2010 on the promise that the focus would be emergencies and mopping up unfinished business.

It was not to consider 250 pieces of legislation. That alone is simply disengenuous, and that alone justifies the GOP’s last-ditch strategy.

Just because a minority can short circuit something a majority supports does not make it any less democratic for the minority to use tools it has at its disposal to require widespread agreement before implementing new laws and public policy.

Are rural Oregonians being uncharitable in our intransigence? Or maybe we’re simply imbeciles who don’t get what our city cousins assert: That our state can stand together on global warming, benevolence toward illegal immigrants, providing largess for nonproductive citizens, gun control and other issues, regardless of who’s paying the bill, especially if it’s the rural population.

While the Republicans might have staved off cap-and-trade one more time, watching our legislators flee the capital is not a long-term solution for Oregon’s rural residents, who occupy 99 percent of the geographic area of the state but only comprise 30 percent of the population. We’re not sure that joining the Greater Idaho movement is either, particularly since Linn County is left out.

Throughout history, in situations like this, leaders have emerged.

That’s not to say Republicans don’t have leaders, but we have to ask how we got into this situation in the first place. This didn’t happen overnight and there are a multiplicity of reasons why we are here now.

A recent article in the Eugene Register-Guard notes that “what was once a 3 percent political registration gap between Eastern Oregon and Multnomah County has skyrocketed to more than 30 percent.” In 1966, the writer notes, 59 percent of Multnomah County residents registered as Democrats; in Eastern Oregon that year, 56 percent were Democrats.

The report attributes a lot of the change to the growth and changes in the demographics of Oregon’s primary urban area, Portland, and differing opinions on environmental issues, the timber industry, the economy and more.

None of this really comes as a surprise, but it begs the question: Can change happen? Or will rural Oregonians, like their neighbors in Northern and Central California and Eastern Washington, be subject to the decrees of city folks forever?

Outside of a massive shift in population and demographics, the only answer is to build bridges.

Oregon’s Republicans must find ways to connect with urban voters, who at some level should really care how their money is being spent, how fires are being fought, how the lumber for their homes is being produced, where the food on their grocery store shelves comes from – and how much all that is costing them.

According to a report last summer on the urban-rural divide written by Claire Withycombe and Aubrey Wieber of the Oregon Capital Bureau, which reports on many rural issues in the capital, urban legislators often don’t understand very well how policies they’re pursuing will impact rural residents, and a lot of mixed signals come from rural portions of the state,

Obviously, TimberUnity has drawn attention to issues experienced by rural residents as a result of what’s going on in Salem. When the TV news cameras show up, we know that even those who aren’t well-informed about public affairs in Oregon are at least getting a sense of what’s going on.

But it will take more than just head-turning demonstrations, though those are necessary, to engineer change.

Those representing rural interests must stand up on issues and clearly explain why they are doing so and how alternative courses of action will impact voters – not just the rural people but those who live in the cities as well. Because, after all, what happens at the beginning of the supply line will impact those who live at the end.

This won’t happen overnight. It will take time. It will take effort. It will take money – to find ways to communicate effectively with people who are preoccupied with what they perceive as the realities of their urban existence. Most are as clueless about all of the above as many rural residents are regarding why city people behave the way they do.