Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, Senate President Peter Courtney and some other Democrats in the state Legislature are accusing Republicans of failing to do their jobs by leaving Salem to deny the Democrats the quorum they need to vote on a carbon cap and trade bill.

The complaint is predictable (GOP lawmakers walked out last year for the same reason).

But it rings hollow.

The implication is that the GOP lawmakers are violating their oath and shortchanging their constituents.

In a joint statement, Kotek and Courtney said: “The only job required of a legislator as specified by the Oregon Constitution, and thus captured by our oath of office, is to vote on legislation. Once again, we urge the absent Republicans to return to the Capitol and make their voices heard by voting, rather than continuing this government shutdown.”

That sounds reasonable, as it suggests that the Democrats merely want their Republican colleagues to show up and vote.

The reality, though, is that because the Democrats have a supermajority, Republican votes are irrelevant. The almost inevitable result, should Republicans return, is that Democrats could pass the controversial carbon bill, which would boost prices for gasoline and other sources of energy.

Indeed, the only way for Republicans to faithfully represent voters in their districts who oppose the carbon bill is to stay away from the Capitol and prevent the bill’s passage.

And opposition is widespread, especially in Eastern Oregon and other rural parts of the state. Elected commissioners from at least 24 of Oregon’s 36 counties, including Baker, have passed resolutions opposing the cap and trade bill.

There is, of course, one vote that Republicans can’t prevent — a statewide vote of Oregonians.

Nor do GOP lawmakers want to — in fact, they have tried to persuade the Democratic leadership to put the carbon measure on the ballot. The Democrats have refused to agree to do so.

The issue here is not whether Oregon ought to scrap its representative government in favor of direct democracy. We elect legislators to make laws, and in most cases that’s the appropriate process. But it’s also appropriate, in cases of legislation such as cap and trade that could have such dramatic effects on the state, to let voters decide. Indeed that’s an integral part of Oregon’s political tradition, in the form of citizen-led initiatives as well as referendums that originate with the Legislature.

The Republicans’ refusal to be rendered irrelevant by the Democrats’ supermajority is more reasonable than the Democrats’ refusal to trust Oregon voters.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor

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