Betsy Johnson.tif

State Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) on Second Street in Tilllamook. (2016)

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The antidote to Oregon’s vitriolic 2020 legislative session came in a phone call from a woman who had a basic question for me: “How am I supposed to survive?”

She wasn’t talking about the coronavirus.

We legislators get so caught up in the bubble of the Capitol building, we lose track of the fact that life is going on for everyone else.

My phone rings every single day. Something is wrong. The law of unintended consequences has come back to bite a constituent.

Like the woman who called me. Her Medicare has gone up $18 a month. Then she found out what the legislature’s transportation bill, passed in 2017, was going to cost her. Her vehicle registration will go up from $86 to $112. She is on a fixed budget and doesn’t know how she can pay for this. What other surprises do the state’s politicians have in store for her?

When 21 House Republicans and 11 Senate Republicans walked out over Senate Bill 1530, they did so to spare their roughly 2.6 million constituents future surprises.

Their constituents, many of them rural residents, know “cap and trade” won’t change global climate. It will cap carbon emissions on businesses and essentially force them to buy emission allowances. What is the point in offering emission allowances if the intent is to control emissions? The real point is to hit one group in the pocketbook and transfer their money to someone else. There is no significant environmental gain.

State Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie) and I are Democrats and could not support this bill. We represent rural places. Our constituents understood what this bill would do to their lives. A week before the walkout, a co-sponsor of SB 1530 suggested we seek a last-minute amendment to benefit pulp and paper mills.

Why didn’t the co-sponsor include this fix in the original bill? Why wouldn’t co-sponsors use their superior negotiating position to attach the amendment themselves? Why put opponents in the position of begging for their constituents’ jobs?

Because SB 1530 is directed at a particular class of people who belong to the wrong political tribe. Our state history has shown that politics can be as deadly as a virus to certain populations.

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn write in their book, “Tightrope,” about the crisis in working-class America: “The consequences of lost timber jobs in Oregon and disappearing coal jobs in Kentucky are not so different from the consequences of erased factory jobs in North Carolina, Maine or Michigan.”

Kristof grew up in Yamhill, Ore. He likes to say he won the lottery at birth with parents who were academicians. Many of his classmates were from blue-collar stock. He went on to a career at The New York Times. About one-quarter of his classmates ended up dead from drugs, suicide and assorted recklessness in a world that no longer needed them.

Their lives became less meaningful than a spotted owl’s. Their expectations were dashed.

For a kid in the 8th grade who thinks he could grow up and work in the Wauna paper mill like his dad, make enough to raise a family, even take a vacation to Disneyland – a single piece of legislation can dash that expectation. That kid is just another political casualty, courtesy of those who thought they knew best.

So much of politics is good intentions. Like our Public Employee Retirement System, which continues to escape solutions while we are busy saving the planet. Now the coronavirus threatens to crater the economy.

For all those who supported cap and trade as a way to attack “corporate polluters,” you may get your wish. See how you like a world with much less commerce.


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