Two of the more conservative members of the Oregon House defected from their party on Wednesday and sided with Democrats to at least temporarily end the reliance of an arcane procedural rule that has dramatically slowed the pace of the legislative session.
In doing so, the right-leaning lawmakers risked torpedoing their party’s ability to effectively negotiate with the Democratic supermajority.
For nearly a month now, Republicans have relied on a provision in the Constitution requiring that all bills be read in their entirety before final passage. The move has caused the session to slow to an excruciating pace.
That tactic is one of the only negotiating strategies Republicans, who are in the super minority, have to gain leverage.
And Democrats responded by engaging with Republicans in behind-closed-doors negotiations.
House Minority Leader Carl Wilson said the talks between the two parties were “going well.”
Then three of his members voted to join the Democrats, giving the required two-thirds vote, to waive the rule requiring bills be read out loud. Two Republicans said they voted intentionally to stop the bill reading, while one lawmaker said it was a mistake.
Wilson said he was surprised by the votes.
“I’m not sure what that is about,” he said, right after the vote.
Later, however, he characterized it as a "family feud."
Reps. Bill Post, R-Salem, and Mike Nearman, R-Independence, were the two Republicans who voted to stop the bill reading.
"I was sent here to vote on bills and best represent my district,” Post said in a statement. “Nearman and I are principled conservative Republicans and I think we’re all ready to vote and go home. It’s time to move on and face the music of a supermajority.”
Nearman, who said he orchestrated the move and went straight to House Democratic leadership, had a couple of reasons for voting to end the delay.
In particular, he was upset by the passage of SB 1008. The measure eased the rules voters adopted in 1994's Ballot Measure 11, creating mandatory minimum sentences for a collection of serious crimes.
"Voters should get what they deserve," he said, adding since Oregon voters approved the measure, any modifications should go before them as well.
Nearman said he was upset at his caucus for allowing the passage of the bill. Four Republicans had to join Democrats to ensure it's passage.
But a part of him also feels like, "the majority party has already passed their main priorities,” he said in a statement.
The state Legislature has already approved a $2 billion school funding measure that taxes businesses. But lawmakers have not yet voted on a cap-and-trade bill to cut carbon emissions and have several budget bills left to approve.
Nearman isn't sure how he will vote when it comes to bill reading on Thursday. But he told OPB on Wednesday afternoon, he felt like he proved his point to his caucus and did it without derailing negotiations.
A third lawmaker, Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, said he voted to suspend the rules by mistake. He said he was distracted while making the vote.
Wilson, the GOP leader, declined to elaborate on what exactly Republicans were hoping the Democrats would give the GOP to stop the bill reading, but he said the minority party was making progress.
Wilson had implied in previous conversations that Republicans were working toward assuring a measure to curb carbon emissions — a Democratic priority — would be altered to lessen the impact on rural Oregon.
The vote suspension was only lifted for one day, so it’s possible the Republicans could require bills to be read in the upcoming days.