That’s Politics!

Oregon Senate suffers partisan virus

The fubar scenario in Salem’s Capitol last week began with Governor Brown’s support of the low-carbon fuel standard, SB 324 and the Republican reaction. The Oregonian, the R-G and Republican legislators immediately blew up an overdue transportation infrastructure plan, a plan that likely would have resulted in the only significant bipartisan accomplishment of this session, all because Kate chose to sign SB 324.

What the hell? An informal group convened by Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney met for weeks to formulate details of a sorely needed transportation infrastructure package. Kotek and Courtney appointed Senators Lee Beyer and Betsy Johnson (both prominent business Democrats), Republican Senators Doug Whitsett and Jeff Kruse (both prominent anti-government partisan obstructionists), and four House members, two D’s and two R’s, viewed as pragmatic, pro-business and less partisan than most in their respective caucuses. All in all, it seemed like a promising group — eight out of 10 ain’t bad, right?  I mean, come on, infrastructure is infrastructure, right? Those rural Republicans who always bellyache about Willamette Valley liberals ignoring their needs, they’ve gotta be on board for some rural economic development, roads and bridges, some jobs, right?

Here’s Roseburg Republican Jeff Kruse in an Oregonian editorial last Thursday:  “By signing SB 324, the governor killed the possibility of a meaningful, productive bipartisan conversation about how we fix Oregon’s crumbling transportation infrastructure.”  The message was clear: Republicans linked two unrelated measures —  one dealt with a worldwide air pollution problem that has most rational global citizens and scientists nervous, and one dealt with an Oregon transportation infrastructure problem that has most of our state’s citizens and rational business/financial players demanding repair of a failing system. Really, we have to sacrifice one for the other? That’s politics?  Why?  Because Republican legislators now have a built-in excuse not to have to support a gas tax increase and possibly face their imminent removal at the hands of their Tea Party constituents in their next primary. That’s politics.

There are plenty of skeptics on the left and the right with regard to the efficacy of SB 324. But blaming Kate Brown for signing an unrelated bill and then tying it to the failure to pass a transportation plan that its own business constituents support, the utter failure to have the cojones to vote to increase the state’s gas tax, makes the Republican Party and their elected legislators and their mouthpieces look like cowards. That’s politics, too.

Speaking of bad public policy: The Oregon Senate has decided to ignore the new vaccine recently brought to us by our OHSU doctor, state Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward. The new vaccine, called “WTF RU Thinking,” inoculates legislators from petty partisan stupidity, a virus seemingly running rampant through the Capitol these days. So, maybe it’s easy to see why the senate won’t move Senate Bill 442.

Seriously, put another way, there are 15 senators holding up a bill that would ban parents from claiming non-medical exemptions from their children’s school vaccinations.  This is a bill that the entire public health system in Oregon — doctors, nurses, hospitals — everyone — thinks is a good idea! Why did the bill disappear?  A small constitutional problem: not enough votes to pass this no-brainer! Steiner Hayward learned that Republicans were content to make this a partisan issue. When doing her vote count, she was told that Republicans would not vote for the bill because she had cancelled the appearance of the discredited British doctor Andrew Wakefield, whose infamous 1998 study on the link between autism and common vaccines was called “unethically financed and fraudulent” by the British Medical Journal. Wakefield attempted to testify before the Oregon Senate Committee on Health Care before Steiner Hayward found out and canceled his appearance. That’s politics!

Some Democrat senators are also withholding their support at this time, although most would probably do the right thing if asked. Some are holding out because they’re getting strong pressure from constituents.  As I pointed out last week, the Left also has concerns about this bill, and some well-educated folks are relying on bad science to oppose this measure. I guess black helicopter conspiracies can fly left or right. Others are withholding their support now to ensure Senator Steiner Hayward’s support on their own priority bills later. It’s called horse trading. That’s politics, too!

Class Acts: Hats off to OSU men’s basketball coach Wayne Tinkler, who started five walk-on seniors in the Civil War finale. Also to coach Dana Altman and the UO for honoring Dave Frohnmayer — beloved man — with the “DF” on their jerseys for the PAC 12 tournament. That’s politics, too, probably!

OK, who’s gonna run for governor in 2016?  Republicans haven’t been successful in over 30 years, since Vic Atiyeh got elected in 1982. Is Kate vulnerable? Depends. Will Dennis Richardson run again? Hope so. Is there another Republican physician in our future not named Monica Wehby? Stay tuned.

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