It's always risky business to take stock of a legislative session within a day or two after the final gavel lands, and it may be particularly risky this year: So many important measures were shoveled through during the final weekend that it feels as if we're still waiting for the final pieces to settle into place.
And, of course, it will take years for the full impact of this busy and contentious session to be felt, and for us determine its successes and failures.
But there's something to be said for being able to write the first draft of history. In that spirit, here are three not-quite-random observations about the 2019 session:
• Supermajorities don't necessarily carry the day. Democrats went into the session with so-called "supermajorities" in both chambers; in both the House and the Senate, Democrats enjoyed a three-fifths advantage, which allowed them to approve revenue bills without the benefit of a single Republican vote. But the Democratic supermajority in the Senate was a little shaky; it held firm for the gross receipts tax on certain Oregon businesses, (with the proceeds from the tax earmarked for K-12 schools), but it fell apart by session's end, leading to defeat for the cap-and-trade carbon proposal. (Although Democratic leaders believed that a supermajority would not have been necessary to pass the cap-and-trade bill, that point was likely to have been challenged in court.)
Besides, as it turned out, the real supermajority number in this session was 20: That's the number of senators needed for a quorum. Failure to reach a quorum means that the Senate is unable to conduct any business. When Republicans walked out of the Senate, depriving it of a quorum, they were able to get significant concessions on gun control and vaccination bills — and their second walkout essentially put a stake into the wavering heart of the cap-and-trade bill. Senate President Peter Courtney and Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick were pondering pursuing a constitutional amendment that would lower the quorum requirement in the Senate to 16, a mere majority. But considering that Democrats have used this walkout tactic themselves in the past, we'd advise caution, because karma can be harsh.
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• The session highlighted the growing divide between rural and urban Oregon. In 1940, the state's population was evenly split between rural and urban areas. Since then, the state's population (and its political power) have been tilting toward its urban areas. Struggles in the wood products industry and changes in the state's agricultural sector, mainstays of rural Oregon, haven't helped.
But rural Oregon flexed some muscle this session, especially in the debate over the cap-and-trade bill, which opponents successfully positioned as something that would harm rural Oregonians with little impact on overall emissions of greenhouse gases. Now, cap-and-trade proponents such as Gov. Kate Brown are vowing to take the case for cap and trade directly to the state's rural voters, but she may find that her credibility in Oregon's rural areas (never particularly high) has taken another hit.
• Will the bruises from this session last? Oregon legislators long have prided themselves on their ability to reach across the aisle and work in a bipartisan manner. But that may have taken a blow in this contentious session.
And the bitterness wasn't entirely between the parties. You may recall that the session started with worries about a pervasive culture of sexual harassment in the Statehouse. It ended with a Republican legislator, Sen. Brian Boquist, threatening Oregon State Police officers assigned to bring him back to the Capitol — and with Democrats, including Sen. Sara Gelser of Corvallis, demanding some sort of sanction against Boquist.
It will be interesting to see how the scars left from this session play out in 2020's short legislative session — and whether they play a role in the 2020 elections. (mm)