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In our opinion: To politicians running from their problems: Just show up

The chamber of the House of Representatives empties following a joint meeting of Congress.
The chamber of the House of Representatives empties following a joint meeting of Congress.
J. Scott Applewhite, AP

Somebody needs to tell Oregon Republicans they can’t run away from their problems.

Of course, delivering that message would have been challenging as no one was quite sure to which part of Idaho the lawmakers fled. The 11 state Senate Republicans got out of Dodge last week in time to stymie operations at the state capitol where a Democratic supermajority was poised to vote on a climate solutions bill. Their absence prevented the formation of a quorum, grinding legislative work to a standstill.

It’s hard to imagine a piece of legislation so scary to merit a clandestine escape. The cap-and-trade bill they were avoiding would have instituted sweeping carbon emission reductions across the state economy and made it only the second state in the nation to have a legal mandate to lower greenhouse gases to a specified target.

True, that would have placed Oregon in mostly uncharted territory, and costs and consequences can defy even the best estimates. Also, Senate Republicans have a rational argument that the changes would harm their rural constituents. But neither of those reasons ought to compel elected officials to leave the negotiating table, let alone the state.

Sadly, they are in good company. The Wall Street Journal notes Democrats in 2011 left Wisconsin and Indiana to prevent changes to unions’ rights. In 2003, Democrats left Texas to stop redistricting plans, taking a cue from Oregon Democrats who did the same in 2001.

But don’t believe literally escaping on foot is the only way lawmakers run from their mandated duties. Consider the national legislature’s proclivity for passing stop-gap spending measures in lieu of funding a real budget. That led to the country’s longest government shutdown earlier this year.

Or what about Congress’ insatiable appetite for punting on hard issues? Real efforts to restructure health care, fix immigration laws and even fund infrastructure developments have languished for years on the doorstep of the Capitol. Here, the law of inertia applies: Bridges won’t build themselves, nor will migrants suddenly stop coming to the southern border.

And then there’s gridlock for gridlock’s sake. Senate Democrats have done their best the past two years to block President Trump’s judicial nominees. And on the other side of the aisle, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in April of progressive policies, “If I'm still the majority leader in the Senate (in 2020) think of me as the Grim Reaper. None of that stuff is going to pass.”

For Oregonian and national lawmakers alike, consider this refresher on the first rule of success: Just show up. In life as in politics, just showing up and giving a full effort is bound to end in good outcomes most of the time. Showing up means talking — and listening — and compromising. It means assuming the mantle given by the voice of the people.

We get it; it’s hard. Political negotiating isn’t for the faint of heart. Quipped Winston Churchill, “In war you can only be killed once, but in politics many times." It’s a thankless job, but it sure helps the rest of us when lawmakers show up.