Editorial: Senate walkout ends; did it pay off?

The longest walkout in Oregon’s history ended last week as GOP senators returned to give the Senate the voting quorum it needed to resume its business.

For any who might be unsure what this was all about, it was essentially about 10 minority Republicans and an Independent who sided with them, risking their political careers to make a point.

Their complaint was that they were being steamrolled by the Democratic majority on issues in an “extreme agenda” that were concerning to their constituents and which they believed had not been subjected to significant public scrutiny.

While not everyone, certainly, in rural districts votes Republican, the majority do and these legislators say they were trying to get it across to mostly urban Democrats that rural residents and their interests really do matter. A glance at the party representation on an Oregon legislative map clearly shows that the vast majority of the geographical territory in our state is not colored blue.

Certainly, we don’t celebrate this. We’d love never to have to mention the “rural-urban divide,” but the fact is, it exists. And in Oregon, right now there’s definitely a sense we get from the ruling majority that “what seems good to us is good for everybody.”

And that’s been, with increasing volume, the GOP’s complaint.

The major focus of their ire has been HB 2002, a sweeping measure which, among other things, would have allowed minors to obtain abortions without parental consent.

In negotiations, which finally brought the parties together after six weeks, Democrats agreed to remove portions of the bill that the GOP considered hostile to parents’ rights, and which would have expanded abortion services in rural areas.

Democrats didn’t budge on expanding what “gender-affirming care” must be covered by insurance plans and securing legal protections for providers who perform abortions for patients who come from states in which similar procedures would be illegal.

Despite the inevitable spin in situations such as this, these are serious issues.

Whether all this resulted in the “win” described by some Republicans, it did seem to finally get the attention of Democratic leaders who, no doubt, realized that the absent senators had nothing to lose, thanks to voters’ approval of Measure 113, which restricts them from running for re-election. Whether the Republicans’ optimism that their challenge to Measure 113’s constitutionality is “strong” will remain to be seen.

Democrats, not surprisingly, have announced that they’ve done their job, despite the GOP “abandoning their districts,” and that they’ve delivered for voters on schools, affordable housing, the homelessness crisis, mental health care and addiction treatment, access to abortion and expanded access to health care for LGBTQ+ communities, and they’ve been working to reduce gun violence and improve community safety and they promised to protect.

Senate Democrats announced last week that they’d passed HB 2005, making Oregon the ninth state in the nation to ban ghost guns.

The Republicans’ return enables the legislature to pass a new two-year budget that contains record funding for schools, new money for mental health services and funding to help address a “crisis” shortage of public defenders.

Back to the walkout: Was it the right choice? Like a lot of things in life, we will find out. Republicans say they didn’t really have any other options to stand up to their constituents. The strategy they chose, should legal challenges fail, will mean that rural Oregonians will lose some seasoned representation in the capitol. One of those in limbo here is East Linn County’s Sen. Cedric Hayden.

We truly doubt that anybody really wanted a walkout, but neither do rural Oregonians want to have urban-driven progressive (for lack of a better description) policies and proposals jammed down their throats by legislators who don’t appear to really care what they think.

Great leaders aren’t just individuals who get things done. They also are those who empower others to accomplish something as a group, as a team. The fact that one party outnumbers the other to the point that it can dictate the agenda does not necessarily produce that kind of leadership.