Jeff Merkley Goes Down Fighting

Jeff MerkleyAs the legislature heads toward sine die, there's some serious wrangling popping up. From Gay Rights Watch:

Outraged at what Speaker Minnis did today to destroy House rules - [Democratic Leader Jeff Merkley] did not hold back. He was gavelled about 4 times before either being told that his microphone would be turned off - or it was actually turned off by Speaker Minnis. He was called into Speaker Minnis' office to discuss the floor 'dispute'. Pretty intense.

It's easy to dismiss rules fights as partisan bickering over parliamentary procedure. From the AP:

Democrats have used that parliamentary move nearly a dozen times so far this session — all without success — to try to score political points with voters by highlighting bills that have no chance of winning passage in House, [Speaker Karen] Minnis said. "It was their behavior that prompted the change," the Wood Village Republican said.

Of course, process is policy - and the rules of the game determine the outcome.

Representative Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland): "This is an absolute outrage and a pure affront to the rule of the majority and the minority. As it stands now, the leadership of the House has absolute ability to stop any bill or any vote from happening."

Questions: How far should Democrats go to protect their right to debate, to bring bills to the floor, to ensure a full discussion of important legislation (especially regarding bills passed by the Senate)? How much is too much? Will the GOP get any blowback from voters 15 months from now? Will grassroots Oregon Democrats reward the House Dems for their principled stands - or shrug their shoulders about "politics as usual"?


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    They should go as far as they have to. I am so proud of Merkley for fighting her on this.

    Minnis is counting on the fact that voters have short memory spans about stuff like this. We have to work hard to make voters remember so that next November these legislators who subverted democracy are voted out.

    Queen Minnis has caused enough problems in this state, and it's time for her to go.

    I've already gotten on my soapbox once this morning over at Blog for Oregon.

  • Marshall Collins (unverified)

    The Democrats and the Governor. If the Speaker wants to restrict the rights of the Rep's in doing the peoples business then legislators, Democrat and Republican, that disagree with this need to say "fine, if you don't want us to do our work, we won't" and then walk right out the door of the Capitol to join the protestors on the steps (as I am sure there will be) and not come back until the Speaker is ready to allow Democracy not Monarchy in the House. This may seem like a rash and somewhat "dirty" move but at this point there really isn't anything that the legislators could do that would sink to the level of the Speaker's actions this session!

  • Marshall Collins (unverified)

    First sentance should have said: "The Democrats and Governor need to keep fighting".

    Still waiting for my coffee to fully kick in!

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    If only the gov would get a backbone and stand up for Oregonians.

    He could refuse to sign important bills (has he signed the budget already?) until Minnis allowed items onto the floor for a vote.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Those who don't stand up for their rights continue to lose them.

    Will the voters remember in 15 months? Ha, ha ha, ha ha ha.

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    Merkley's tactics were foolish. Minnis's refusal to allow certain bills to come to the floor is not admirable, but it's hardly a new way of doing things. House leaders of both parties have traditionally used their power to control the agenda to keep bills they dislike from moving to the floor. Not terribly democratic, but that's the way it's been. The minority can try to jar bills loose through parliamentary maneuvers, and once in a blue moon it works. It is an approach that must be used sparingly, just like a filibuster, because overuse can provoke a rules change by the majority. Well, Merkley overused it, causing prolonged floor debates at exactly the wrong time -- when everybody is sick and tired and wants to go home. The Republicans locked up, the rules got changed so that the Legislature can actually adjourn before October, and the Democrats have absolutely nothing to show for it except for a "process" argument that the public will not give a damn about. There is a time and a place to make a stand, and this was not it.

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    I agree that voters aren't going to remember. It's up to us to make sure they remember. We need to keep an archive of everything they've done, said, etc. Then that stuff needs to be used against them next year.

    Oregon Democrats have done horribly when it comes to using a candidate's record against them. We need to show the voters what they did-- straight from their own words and actions.

    Oregonians need to be shown how Minnis and her cronies kept bills from going through that would have helped/protected Oregonians. It's never too late to start putting stuff together and mailing it out.

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    Seeing as word is that the legislature will end either today or tomorrow (and this was said before the rules were changed), there was no chance the legislature was going to go until October.

    If taking a stand now (at the closing of the legislature) to force bills to be voted upon isn't the time to stand up, I don't know when is.

    Even if Merkley and fellow Ds hadn't used this rule at other times during the legislature, they still would have changed the rules. Queen Karen just used that as an excuse. And it was just that-- an excuse.

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    Nice piece of House Republican spin.

    The fact is, Karen Minnis and Wayne Scott brought this on themselves. By essentially choosing the ignore the House Democrats all session, and by requiring their caucus to vote for everything that comes to the floor (essentially making Democratic votes unecessary), they gave the House D's no option but to use the procedural tools that exist for the minority to push their agenda.

    They are paying for it, and will continue to pay for it. Never have two caucus leaders appeared to be as obstructionist and partisan, in the eyes of the average Oregonian, as Karen Minnis and Wayne Scott.

    Thanks to Minnis and Scott, they forced their members from moderate districts to cast vote after vote against common sense bills and for right wing ideological trash.

    How would you like to be a moderate Republican in Oregon these days? You could choose to be an independent and team up with the Democrats from time to time, and then face a primary challenge from a right wing zealot. Or you could be faced with the great task of having to go home and explain to all of the Democratic, independent and moderate Republican voters in your district why you voted with your leadership 99.9% of the time.

    Their choice to rule their caucus with an iron fist to move an rigid right wing agenda will be their downfall.

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    Ayup. What would we all be saying if Rep. Merkley had not gone to the wall on this one? If Dems are emasculated by the rules and current composition of the House, they have a duty to stand up whenever and however they can.

    Jeff, you Da Man. Governor Ted, hmm, not so much........But what else is new?

  • LT (unverified)

    Oregon Democrats have done horribly when it comes to using a candidate's record against them. We need to show the voters what they did-- straight from their own words and actions. Oregonians need to be shown how Minnis and her cronies kept bills from going through that would have helped/protected Oregonians. It's never too late to start putting stuff together and mailing it out.

    Years ago, someone running in as impossible an Oregon legislative district as Ohio 2nd Congressional District (incumbent Republican was known to generations of local residents) didn't have much money for ads. But he did have enough money for a newspaper ad with a picture of himself out jogging. The headline was "Why is this man running?" and the text was "Because he is upset at the incumbent's voting record" which was then listed, along with what the candidate would have done. No, the challenger didn't win (or even do as well as Paul Hackett did last night). But he did cut the incumbent's margin about in half.

    Perhaps this is a clue to next year's elections. Drop the "Here is a picture of my beautiful family. I support education and public safety" generic mailers. Instead, have something like "Why is this man running". "The incumbent voted...but I would have voted..." is something people might actually read instead of just throwing in the recycle bin. Take a stand on public hearings on the budget and other items because it has been proven that closed door hearings only prolong the session. There are lots of districts in Oregon which are a lot more "purple" than the Ohio 2nd Cong. Dist. Candidates who look at local issues, and talk about what makes sense and what doesn't are more likely to appeal to all those independents and swing voters than the "my caucus right or wrong" style of campaigning.

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    Exactly! People are so tired of all the nasty campaigning. What they want to know is what did the incumbent do (in fact, not half-truths) and what would the challenger do differently.

    There are several House members who could be beaten if their record was used against them. Minnis is one, but there are others (John Lim and Patti Smith are two others).

  • Jeff Bull (unverified)

    I'm happy to see this one getting batted about. While Chris makes the accurate point (it may read like GOP spin, but, really, why is that relevant?) that this is how business is done, it's not a good way of doing business. Allowing partisan-led committees - which I think it's fair to say get leaders assigned based on loyalty - to sit on bills and control the flow of legislation denies a legislative majority the chance to forward bills that may have the support of the voting majority. Removing flexibility from the rules (apart from being cowardly) encourages unaccountability in public officials. Who wants that?

    On the other hand, Chris is right to point out that this should be used sparingly. That said, I agree with everyone else that there's no other time to take a stand than now...y'know, when the session is ending. I view the manuever - and Merkley's aggressive pursuit of it - as a good thing. Karen Minnis has run the House like a thug and I'm hoping all this reflects badly on her. Moreover, it's down to the Democrats to see that it does. Stunts like this help move it forward.

    Overall, I'm big on the rules of the system, what they enable, protect, allow and so on. It's always depressed me that things like last night's GOP's manuever doesn't resonate with the public because the rules of the game matter as much as anything. When those change, or get restricted, key things like legislative give-and-take and collegiality suffer.

    Anyway, enough civics. I threw out something about this on my blog...but that had as much to do with griping about the coverage in the papers as anything.

  • NWLib (unverified)
    (Show?)'s definitely time for all House D's (and any R's similarly outraged) to refuse to do any of the House's business under these conditions. Remember last year when the Democrats in the Texas House bolted to Oklahoma during a redistricting fight? Why not get our folk to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk ... and walk out the door of the Capitol and refuse to return until Queen Minnis and her minions capitulate on this obscene mockery of democracy? And the Senate D's should shut down too. Call them to the mat. This is ridiculous.

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    In the 2001 Session the Oregon House Dems walked under the leadership of then Minority Leader Dan Gardner, over redistricting. So in 2003 Session t he speaker changed the rules so if you miss session without an excuse its (I think) a thousand dollar fine per day. So they thought of that and it worked once. But man it worked great.

    Joe Baessler

  • LT (unverified)

    So, what was Kropf's fine? Or didn't Minnis fine him because he is GOP? So in 2003 Session t he speaker changed the rules so if you miss session without an excuse its (I think) a thousand dollar fine per day

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    I wish they could do a walk-out like my rep (and other fellow Dems) did in Texas.

    With the Texas Dems they were able to remove enough representatives so that there was not enough of them to be able to vote on the redistricting.

    The Dems here could do a walk-out; however, it wouldn't stop a vote on items.

    I was very proud of my state rep (who tended to vote with the Rs), as he was one of those who left the state.

  • Lynn Porter (unverified)

    Democrats on the state level have the same problem as Democrats on the national level -- the lack of a compelling vision. It seems that all you're willing to try for are minor adjustments. That doesn't get the public stirred up. What is your vision for the future of this state? If you don't have one, why should we care?

  • Rep. Peter Buckley (unverified)


    Thanks for your post. Your comment amazes me, though, I have to say. This entire thread is all about the House Republicans' fear of our vision for the state and the lengths they will go to in order to keep us from speaking about it on the House floor. Let me make it simple for you:

    --Google "Oregon Business Plan" and find out what the primary need is for economic development in our state is, as articulated by leaders of every major industry. The need is to invest in education. The payoff is huge. Our vision for the state is to invest in education from pre-K all the way through grad school, invest in our kids, invest in our future, and reap the rewards. Every proposal we made this session to actually make this investment was blocked by the House GOP, even to the point of threats against our members who dared to try to debate this on the floor.

    --Oregon Democrats believe every Oregonian has the right to decent health care coverage. That is our vision, plain and simple, and we know we can accomplish it if given the chance. It will require transparency in the health care delivery system so costs can be analyzed, it will require that ALL companies (including Wal-Marts, etc.) contribute for health care instead of passing the costs along to the stae, it will require an adjustment on tax revenue (such as a renewal of the 10 cents a pack tobacoo tax), and it wil require practical steps such as the expansion as our perscription drug purchasing pool (which has a proven track record of saving Oregonians up to 40% on drug prices). Again, all of these proposals have been blocked in the House. They are part of our vision for Oregon. If you have questions on them, let me know.

    --We also passionately believe that all Oregonians deserve the same civil rights. What do you believe?

    --Our vision for economic development, in addition to the investment in pre-K through grad school education, can be seen in proposals such as Connect Oregon, the Governor's proposal we passed yesterday, to insure the effective transportation of goods in our state for domestic and international markets. We build on Oregon's strengths in terms of goods to market, and we fight for living wage jobs because our vision is one that says that if every person who works hard is paid a decent wage, they will fuel our economy with the purchases they need to provide a good life for their families, and they will have a stake in building our communities.

    In short, our vision is one of progress for all, for a state we can be proud to leave to our kids. What is the GOP "vision"? I've spent seven months in session now, and I haven't the faintest idea of what it might be besides stifling debate, fighting for tax breaks for those who are already thriving, and moving forward on the slow death of public education and other programs that could and should be a tremendous benefit to the people of our state.

    Our vision? That is exactly what Speaker Minnis has worked so hard to try to silence in the House. But we won't be silenced. Our vision and our passion for it is much too strong, and we plan to see our vision become reality over the next several years in our state.

    Care to join us?

    Rep. Peter Buckley (D-Ashland)

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    From somewhere else, paraphrased:

    "Americans love a fighter."

    Go, Jeff!

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)


    <h2>You are correct that Dems should let voters know what went on during the session. That has not been done well up to now. Unfortunately, voters seldom make a legislator pay for what her party's leadership has done, so the heavy handed tactics of Scott and Minnis would be useful against those two. If I'm not mistaken, Scott's district has a D voting edge. He looks like a good target to me.</h2>
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