Oregon’s House Bill 2020, was cap and trade legislation based in part on a similar law in California. It was passed by the House and sent to the Senate where it had overwhelming support. Republican senators objecting to the bill walked out, leaving the chamber short of a quorum and unable to do business. It’s been the hot topic in Pacific Northwest news for several weeks, and even rated mention in the national media.
So what was going on, and what might it tell us about the upcoming presidential election? GOP senators complained the bill would put heavy burdens on rural parts of the state, as well as on business and industry in general. Moreover, they said, the Democratic majority never negotiated with them in good faith. Democratic leaders responded that many amendments were added to meet nearly every objection Republicans had made. The standoff finally ended and the bill was killed in order to move on to more pressing budget legislation.
Would the GOP senators have been satisfied if Democrats had been more flexible? Absolutely not. As reported by NBC, “Our mission was to kill cap and trade,” [minority leader]Baertshiger said, “and that’s what we did.”
I’ve read the detailed summary of the bill, and the Democrats are right; they did meet the objections raised by Republicans. In its final form the bill was not an onerous burden on rural areas or agriculture, and while it would have required industrial pollution sources to make major changes in controlling CO2 emissions, it gave them options, alternatives, and time consistent with similar laws elsewhere. You can read it for yourself at www.olis.leg.state.or.us.
Oregon’s Republican senators engaged in a small example of tyranny of the minority tactic they claim is their only defense against tyranny of the majority. One of the right’s favorite axes to grind is tyranny of the majority. In the early days of the republic, founding fathers were concerned that ill informed rural and working class masses could form a majority that governed to the detriment of society, tyrannizing the minority of well informed northern urban and southern plantation wealth producers working to build up the new country. They had seen what happened in France, and had their own problems with the masses they didn’t trust to know how to self govern. The Constitution was designed make it difficult for such a majority to gain too much control.
Today’s right wingers have flipped the coin to claim that rural and working class folk are the minority who are being threatened by the wealthy, over educated but ill informed urban elite. Using a system set up to protect the upper classes, right wingers dictate terms and conditions that undermine the majority in the name of defending the freedom of real people, the common man, workers and farmers.
Ironically, in the name of protecting farmers, workers, and rural areas Oregon GOP senators gave libertarian ideologues everything they wanted to keep farmers, workers, and rural areas in their place, which is out of the way. As an added bonus, they blocked pesky environmental regulations at the same time. It was a masterful move.
Some want to blame the entrenched selfishness of the corporate world. And while it may be guilty of its share, Business and industry cannot bear the whole burden. As a whole, business and industry always acts in its own short term self interest. Its ability to consider the greater good of society over the long run is boxed in by its desire to be as profitable as possible in the immediately foreseeable future. That’s not a bad thing. We need healthy, job creating, wealth producing business and industry. But it requires appropriate degrees of regulation that don’t smother it, sometimes underwrite it, and always have an eye toward the long term well being of society as a whole. It’s a matter of balance worked out in good faith negotiations.
Libertarian ideologues are skilled at weaponizing the corporate world’s myopic self interest, and rural distrust of urban elites, to grind good faith negotiating to a halt. More progressive forces don’t seem to have a clue what to do about it.
GOP senate leaders had no intention of negotiating or compromising. Their intention, by their own words, was to kill it. It’s a favored tactic adopted by extreme tea party type libertarians. Never give an inch. It’s the tactic used by the Freedom Caucus in Washington D.C. It’s Mitch McDonnell’s preferred tool. It’s not conservative, it’s extreme libertarianism, and it’s dangerous to the integrity of our democratic republic, but it plays well in less populated and economically distressed districts that believe they are under assault by wealthy urbanites who don’t care about them.
Democratic leaders fail, and fail miserably, when the don’t go directly to the electorate in districts held by right wingers to listen, not tell but listen, to what the locals have to ask, to say, and to suggest. These folk are not dumb, and after the yelling is over, they may have worthwhile suggestions to offer. Who knows, maybe Oregon’s Democratic leaders did all that and still had to surrender majority will to minority intransigence. If so, it only means they have to do a better job of it next time. In any case, it’s a lesson for candidates across the nation to consider as they prepare for 2020.