Chuck Thomsen (CT): In Camas, I thought, ‘What am I doing? I’m five minutes from Oregon. I was told Washington has a reciprocal agreement with the state that the State (Patrol) can come in 25 miles for us.
HRN: WSP said right away they weren’t going to do that.
CT: I didn’t hear that. I didn’t know.
HRN: It was in the news.
CT: I didn’t read the news. I watch a lot of, “I Almost Got Away With It.” I’ve seen a lot of that program. I wasn’t going to be the one who got caught.
My next day, I went to Toppenish, but I didn’t stay the same night in the same town and hotel room. Then I went to Yakima, and we heard (Washington) Gov. Inslee said he would let state patrol help in getting us back.
I drove to Lewiston, Idaho. The governor there said, “You senators are safe in this state.”
(Chris Loftis, WSP communications director, confirmed last week that the only reason anyone from WSP would make contact with an Oregon resident is if they were “speeding or doing some other criminal violation.”)
HRN: It’s documented why the GOP caucus as a group left, but answer the question of why you left?
CT: The economic impact to citizens of Oregon, rural business, farming, logging, you name it, the impacts from that bill are — here’s what it would do to fruit farming: That’s a business I know. Last February, we got up in the middle of the night in February, had almost zero-degree temperatures. We ran our fans and propane systems we converted from oil, but it cost $16,000 to run our system all night. Usually, we just need to do that a few hours and it’s not that costly, but measure that times four. And then, people who heat with natural gas. Multiply that by four. That’s why it affects businesses like mine, and logging companies who rely on diesel to power their trucks and use a lot of propane to finish their lumber off.
HRN: So, why did you leave Salem for a portion of the session?
(Thomsen cited abortive HB 2020 discussions between Sen. Cliff Bentz of Ontario with Democratic leader Sen. Michael Dembrow, in December. “He told Bentz, ‘Your input’s no longer needed.’ None of his ideas were put into the bill.”)
HRN: None, or just some of the ideas he wanted? Is it accurate to say “none”?
CT: I don’t know that 100 percent. Bentz was brought in a week before the walkout, there were varied amendments, but he was told negotiations are off. Next day, (Senate President Peter) Courtney second-read the bill, and that was it. That triggered the walkout. It would have come to the floor to be voted on.
That was our trigger to leave. And that’s why we left.
HRN: What’s the trigger to leave?
CT: The trigger to leave was Courtney second-read the bill and those who said they weren’t going to vote No switched and we had no other choice. There were people in their caucus who didn’t like the bill either. It was an economic hit to rural Oregon.
It would have put more mills out of business and all kinds of things. If a company goes out of business in Oregon and they can go somewhere else and put in another mill, you haven’t changed anything with emissions. All session long they had the super majority, but when it came to this one, it was a bill everyone in our caucus said, “We gotta walk.”
The dynamics of walking is probably the toughest thing that can happen. Even though we were only 11 people in the Caucus at the time, there was a lot of pressure, people up for election, capital construction projects are up and we all get threatened the governor will take those away.
I was out of the state at 10:55 a.m. that day.
HRN: How much consideration did you give to the hundreds of other pieces of legislation facing the Legislature?
CT: We came back in time. We did 102 bills on Saturday. We sat in a conference room in Lewiston and communicated with the rest of the caucus at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., and all we had to do was go over the scenarios, on what can happen with the bills.
For the first time in nine years, the Republicans, even in super-majority, we had some power. We had power over the last couple of days. The ones that had been first-read but not second and third read, we could stop those bills by coming back on Saturday. We realized we have power but we also realized we are in the super minority. There were several bills that “if we can kill them, let’s kill them.” Here’s what we asked our members: “Would you have walked on this bill? That bill? Would you have walked on this bill?” No one said yes, so that’s why when we went back, except for HB 2020, the ones they wanted to pass, passed.
If you look at the last day and a half, even when we got back to Salem, we were fighting a bunch of our members for that but if you look at the tail end of the process, the bills they wanted to pass, passed, and we didn’t stop them.
The other side of it, was, “Why did you come back?” Some people felt we should have stayed out. Once we got into it four or five days, that was never going to happen. We had a couple of members who didn’t but the biggest questions for the Republicans in a supermajority who had power for the first time in nine years, we said, “Would you have walked on that bill?” That was a pretty reasonable thing for a bunch of guys who never had any power.
HRN: Did you and your associates have time to consider all the legislation you had days to deal with?
CT: We were dealing with these things all year.
HRN: With amendments, though.
CT: Oh, tons, it could be 100 percent different.
HRN: Did you have time to fully consider these bills?
CT: Oh, yes, our staff is cranking that stuff out all year round. We have really good descriptions when we go to the floor.
HRN: But you weren’t on the floor.
CT: Yes, but we had really good communication.
HRN: What kind of communication?
CT: We just talked about it, but everybody already knew what was in the bills.
HRN: How were you able to judge the content and value of a bill in June in Idaho you might not have seen since March, after it went through heavy amendments in some cases?
CT: Up until mid-May, the policy committees are still in effect. We know about all these bills at that point.
HRN: But you had mere days, even with encyclopedic knowledge, to actually decide on those bills, not a couple of weeks. What was lost in the process?
CT: Lengthy floor ponies (legislative summaries presented on the floor for possible discussion). Our staff has gone through the bills, usually 20 a day, and every bill has a description of the bill. It’s a very detailed thing. We go through that sheet before we go to the floor. That goes on all year, and in the last two days that’s what we had, we went over every bill just like we normally do.
HRN: What was the impact on the process of getting the legislation passed, by virtue of the GOP being gone?
CT: Other than HB 2020, nothing. We didn’t stop any of the bills they (Democrats) wanted. All those bills they wanted passed. People like to talk a lot, stand up and talk about a bill. I’ve probably seen in my nine years, floor discussion has changed my mind maybe three of four times. You want to be prepared before you go down there. I like to know how I’m going to vote before I go down there.
HRN: What are people going to remember about this session, other than the GOP walkout? Or what should they?
CT: I think they’re going to remember the over-reach. I don’t think it was to be unexpected. I went in there knowing they would over-reach, that we would get taxed heavily. I knew we wouldn’t have a good fix to PERS because the majority party isn’t interested in doing that at this point. I don’t know what it’s going to take.
HRN: Was the walkout worth it?
CT: I think this was worth doing for the State of Oregon and I would do it again. If I had to.
HRN: You talked before about, “Would you walk out on this bill or that bill?” Did you openly talk about it?
CT: You have to understand, it was only about getting everyone to come back. We did that so we would go back and finish the work and not try to kill any more bills other than 2020. That’s the reason that phrase was used. We had members who didn’t want to come back at all, and that was the idea we used: “We didn’t walk on this one, or this one.” We walked on 2020 alone, so let’s go back to Salem and finish our work.
HRN: Are you normalizing the concept of walkout?
CT: Cliff Bentz came up with it as a way of getting members to come back to work. It was just to get us to come back to Salem to finish our work.