Republican walkout an effort to get supermajority to listen

Recently, I have received a few messages and questions about the Senate Republicans walking out of the building on May 7.

Before you can understand the situation itself, it is important to realize that the Democrats have a majority in the senate, which leaves the Republicans with a minority voice and limited options.

What can the minority party do to have their constituents’ voices heard amongst a super majority? (Currently, there are 38 Democratic representatives and 22 Republican representatives in the Oregon House of Representatives and in the Oregon Senate, there are 18 Democrat senators and 12 Republican senators.)

Last week, the House Republican Representatives employed the method of long discussion on the House Floor to stall the $2 billion tax bill. After 6½ hours, the voice of the minority party was still ignored.

This week the Senate Republicans have used the method of a walkout to try and move the bill back to committee for reforms. This walkout, for practical purposes, denies the Senate President a quorum.

To have a quorum, they would need 20 senators to be in attendance. Therefore, with only 18 in the building, the Senate Chamber cannot legally convene and conduct business. This effectively stops the voting on bills on the Senate Floor.

I am not affirming nor decrying the Senate Republicans’ decision to not show up. I will offer a few thoughts regarding the use of this tool for the party that is in the minority and the implications that it produces for both parties.

A few points to remember: The majority party, whether Democrat or Republican, has an extreme amount of power. They choose the Senate President or the Speaker of the House, they choose their own party members to chair all committees with an occasional Republican chair appointment on a minor committee.

This means that they decide what bill ends up in which committee, when and if the bill gets a hearing, and when the bill is brought to the floor.

This week’s events have brought to the surface the walkout in 2001, when Republicans were in the majority and the Democrats were the minority.

The Democrats went to the Warm Springs Reservation for five days while fighting over redistricting. They did this because the Indian reservation is federally controlled land.

If the Senate president so wills, he/she can send the Oregon State Police to retrieve the departed senators. However, the State Police do not have jurisdiction on federally controlled land. Then-Sen. Kate Brown was among those who walked out in 2001.

The walk-out tactic sometimes allows the minority voice to be heard.

Yet, as soon as the senators return, voting on the Floor Session will resume. If the majority party is not willing to listen to the minority voice, then methods such as stalling and not showing up can only do so much.