Last week, we looked at a group of Republicans in the Oregon state Senate who had fled the state to deny the Democratic supermajority a quorum for a vote on a new cap and trade carbon bill. For better or worse, the fleebagging tactic worked and, with the end of the legislative session fast approaching, the Democrats abandoned the bill on Tuesday. While that may be the end of this chapter of the story, it’s highlighted some of the hypocrisy coming from the Oregon Democrats who were chastising the GOP for employing this tactic.
That’s particularly true of Oregon Governor Kate Brown, who sent out the State Police in an effort to track down the fleebaggers and bring them back to Salem to do their jobs. She publicly pilloried the Republicans for their “cowardly” behavior and demanded a return to the normal rules of order. As it turns out, however, that was a rather odd position for her to take, because back in 2001 she was part of a group of Democratic legislators who did the exact same thing. They had fled to a Native American reservation to hole up and avoid voting on a new redistricting bill. (Daily Caller)
In a massive irony, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown had found herself arguing against the position she held on the tactic in 2001 when she and two dozen other Democrats fled to Warm Springs Indian Reservation in a spat with Republicans over a redistricting plan…
Governor Brown lambasted her GOP opponents, saying in a press release that they had “decided to abandon their duty to serve their constituents.” She called for the Oregon State Police “to bring back their colleagues to finish the work they committed to push forward for Oregonians.”
That’s a far cry from her stance 18 years ago, when she defended her caucus’s flight as “very appropriate.” She then boasted that “we would use all tools available to us” to block a legislative redistricting plan unfavorable to her caucus.
As I mentioned when this story first broke, this fleebagging tactic doesn’t happen every day, but it happens often enough to be alarming and both parties engage in it.
In 2003, Texas Democrats fled to Oklahoma to avoid voting on a different redistricting bill. In 2011, a group of Wisconsin Democrats made a run for the border to prevent a vote on right-to-work legislation. Other examples can be found in nearly all of the states that require more than a simple majority for a quorum when voting.
As I said earlier, this is problematic for everyone. As Republicans, you can’t sit there yelling at the Democrats and calling them fleebaggers in Texas but simply ignore (or even cheer on) the Republicans in Oregon. (Well, okay… you can, but you’re being a hypocrite.) For better or worse, Governor Brown was correct – while being a total hypocrite – when she noted that these legislators asked for the jobs they hold and took an oath to do those jobs.
If the legislature is preparing to vote on a bill you oppose, you still need to show up and cast your vote against it. If the majority is passing an extreme bill that lacks majority support around the state, the voters will likely reward you for your principled opposition when they next go to the polls. If they largely favor the measure, that means that you need to do a better job convincing them and come back to try again later. And sometimes, if you are rare conservative in a very blue state (or vice versa), you may have to deal with some losses and keep your powder dry for the next battle.
So yes, Governor Brown has been rightly called out for her hypocrisy in this case. But the bigger problem is fleebagging in general. It’s not part of the democratic process and the practice should be broadly condemned.