Empty desk

A sign reading ‘Real PERS Reform Now’ lies on the empty desk of a Republican senator after they didn’t show up for Senate floor session in Salem last week. Democrats unveiled a plan to rein in the state’s rising pension costs in an attempt to coax protesting Republicans back to the Capitol.

Oregon voters watched Monday as political drama took center stage in Salem when Republican members of the Senate returned after a weeklong walkout.

The result was the passage of the Student Success Act, a multi-tiered piece of legislation that will funnel money into schools but boost taxes. Gov. Kate Brown is expected to sign it into law.

Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, voted for the bill, which passed 18-11 on party lines. But her vote in support is conditional upon the Legislature adopting major reforms to the state’s public pension system this year, she said.

Two other controversial bills — each opposed by Republicans — evaporated, seemingly part of the deal to bring Senate GOP members back to the Capitol.

Voters, though, should remember that the Senate GOP walkout was never about funding education. Republicans have consistently stated on the record that they support giving more money to Oregon’s schools.

No, the walkout was a move of desperation, prompted by the lack of urgency from Democrats to work with their GOP colleagues.

With a supermajority, Democrats hold supreme power in the Legislature. The sentiment seemed to be that if Republicans were not going to play political ball, then Democrats would just go ahead and greenlight their legislative priorities.

Except even with a supermajority the old fundamental of democracy — working along a bipartisan route to solve problems — reigns.

Even if it means Republicans walking away for a week.

In the end, GOP senators had little choice but to evacuate the capital and deprive Democrats of the needed quorum to vote on the education bill.

Time will tell if the tactic pays off. Now, it appears to have been only marginally successful. Yes, Republican did gain some political traction — the vaccination and gun bills were dropped — and more funding for schools is now a reality.

Yet at least one major elephant — the cap and trade bill — is still standing on the Oregon political porch. House Bill 2020 is controversial in many parts of the state, and for good reason. GOP lawmakers have worked hard this session to put the brakes on the carbon emission legislation — if only to develop a better, more equitable plan in the future. So far, Democrats don’t appear to be listening. We hope that changes.

In the end, the walkout, while politically unseemly, ultimately did not impede additional funding for our local schools. No matter what one’s political persuasion, producing more money to educate our children is always a good idea.

And sometimes good ideas can be a rare species inside Oregon’s Capitol.

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