On June 25, 2019, I was in Salem at the Capitol with approximately 100 young people from across Oregon. These young Oregonians traveled long distances, missing school, to make lawmakers listen to science and open their eyes to the reality that Oregon communities are being ravaged by the impacts of climate change. The only legislative response could be bold action to address the climate crisis. This was 15 months before Blue River, Talent and Phoenix burned to the ground in a wildfire season that makes anyone denying climate change look absurd.
On the day those young people traveled to Salem to speak up for their generation and demand action, the Oregon Senate Republican plan to stop action to address the climate crisis achieved its goal. Republicans had fled Oregon and shut down the government, holding democracy hostage. Senate President Peter Courtney felt he had no choice but to bow to the demands of Republican leaders who used funding for schools, anti-hunger programs and mental health care (among other things) as hostages.
On the Senate floor, Courtney announced that climate action had to be set aside because many vulnerable Oregonians depended on critical state funding that in many cases meant the difference between life and death. It was politics at its worst, and Republicans should be ashamed of their leaders.
I can still see the devastated, confused faces of those students, who traveled to the Capitol that day demanding climate action. They had been taught never to give in to bullies; that democracy is about showing up, making your argument and then letting people vote; that science is not to be ignored because it is inconvenient. Senate Republicans played from a different rulebook.
Only one lawmaker on the Senate floor that day had the courage and instinct to know what to do after the Senate president’s gavel fell, killing climate action in front of those students. Sen. Shemia Fagan made a beeline for the students looking on in disbelief from the balcony of the Senate chambers. She addressed them and apologized for the government that failed them. She gave each student a hug and told them never to give up. She reminded them that they had science on their side and the only way to lose was to give up.
As I watched Fagan console and lift up those students at that devastating moment, I thought, “This is what leadership and political courage looks like. We need more of that in our politics.”
That is why I was thrilled when Fagan decided to run for secretary of state. Oregonians have a tremendous opportunity to elect a passionate, empathetic and effective leader.
Her opponent? Republican state Sen. Kim Thatcher, who couldn’t even be bothered to remain in the state to do the job she was elected to do. She literally turned her back on those students and fled (she pulled the same political stunt during the 2020 legislative session as well). Thatcher showed us who she is on that fateful day in June. She completely undermined the democratic process and the will of the voters, demonstrating to all that she will choose party over the people and future of Oregon. That is the last thing you want in a secretary of state.
I urge Oregonians to reject the anti-democratic politics of Senator Thatcher and the Oregon Republican leaders by casting their vote for Senator Shemia Fagan for Secretary of State.
Zach Klonoski is a native Eugenean who currently resides in Portland. He is an attorney and former finance director for Renew Oregon.