Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Monday, May 31, 2004  

This week, Oregon politics gets bizarre. The House is preparing to meet in a special session--without the Senate. This strange spectacle comes courtesy of the Speaker of the House, Karen Minnis, who is Oregon's version of Tom DeLay. She's every bit as ideological, unethical, autocratic, and now, quixotic, as her national far-right brethren.

A few of the Minnis highlights. Last year, as Oregon grappled with a massive hole in the budget, Minnis guided the legislature to the longest session in history, privately making deals with Democrats and then publicly trashing them. When a deal seemed more and more remote, she tried to form a subcommittee that excluded Democrats. Eventually, when no deal could be reached, a group of moderate Republicans signed off on a very modest revenue hike--which Minnis promptly agreed to help overturn via ballot measure once the gavel ending the session had sounded. (It worked.)

Recognizing the substantial flaws in the Oregon tax code, lawmakers agreed to join together over the winter to put together a few ideas that they could take up in special session this spring. But far from trying to reach agreement on taxation and spending, Minnis led her cohort toward a Colorado-style "bucket plan" that would put Oregon on far more volatile footing (it's straight out of the Grover Norquist playbook). It appeared all efforts to reform the tax structure were dead, and everyone gave up the idea of a special session.

That is, until Multnomah County started issuing gay marriage licences. All of a sudden the ideological Minnis saw the opportunity for a little red-meat grandstanding and started making calls to meet again. Unfortunately for her, the Senate, divided 15-15, refused to participate.

Foresaking even the appearance of good faith, Minnis tried to turn it into political advantage. She led a deeply cynical campaign against the Dems that everyone across the nation will recognize from earlier examples against John McCain, Max Cleland, and John Kerry--characterizing her foes as devils and Republicans as desperate patrons of the civic good lost in a sea of evil bureauracy. First the GOP took out a full-page ad in the Oregonian trying to shame the Senate. Then Minnis made it personal in an Oregonian editorial:

We're unclear just what the Democrats are afraid of. Perhaps they fear that if this plan is successful, their hopes of eventually raising taxes to cover higher state spending will be dashed.

She didn't back down, and tomorrow the House will meet solo. It's an unprecedented move and has no legal standing. Without Senate approval, no legislation can go through. But Minnis isn't afraid to use whatever tiny reserve of goodwill that remains to try to rend the state further apart. We will now watch the GOP spend days or weeks passing phony laws and calling Dems rat bastards--all on the government dime. (Hey, fiscal responsibility is only good when you're cutting programs that benefit Democratic constitutencies.)

Once upon a time, Oregon was a model for cross-aisle partnerships, and in the 1960s and 70s produced a series of landmark laws. What's playing out now is a political stunt by the far-right to try to commandeer the Oregon legislature by staging a publicly-funded campaign for GOP lawmakers in an election year. Thanks to the echo-chamber of Republican politics, Minnis is sure Oregonians will respond by sending the Dems packing in November. She's partly right--it's time for voters to send politicians packing. Let's hope this little stunt confirms for the voters just where the problem really lies.

posted by Jeff | 8:50 AM |
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