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Virtual Town Hall Turns Tense
No public access is frustrating for many

Town Halls are an important way for elected officials to interact and update those they represent in Salem, about the current legislative session. In previous years these have typically been hosted informally at coffee shops, or bookstores face to face. Yet, as political tensions increase, along with concerns over safety and COVID-19, more meetings are being hosted virtually, during a time when Oregonians are locked out of the Capitol, and feeling not only unheard, but silenced. For a select few, the Town Hall process has become an open space to air their grievances.

On Wednesday, April 21, 2021, Senator Lynn P. Findley (R-Vale), Representative Daniel Bonham (R-The Dalles), and Representative Mark Ownens (R-Crane) hosted a joint Town Hall to speak to constituents and answer questions about the current 2021 Legislative Session. Unfortunately, what followed was something akin to a digital mob with pitchforks and torches. The zoom chat box exploded into expletives, and decorum was soon lost amongst attendees.

While many bills are on the table, only one seemed to be the topic of heated debate: SB554, "The Gun Bill." At the center of constituent ire was the topic of walking out, a process whereby enough lawmakers deny quorum requirements, in order to prevent a vote on one or more bills. This legal procedure move has been used successfully in past years by both parties, usually as a last resort. However, dynamics are very different this session, and it doesn't appear a walk out is possible for Republicans, making it a very rough and unpredictable year for multiple issue-based voter blocks who hold many concerns. Northwest Observer reported on the political landscape and the threats made by the majority party, back in December.

Prior to SB554 being read on the Senate Floor, an open letter was sent to Republican Senators, Lynn Findley included, from 27 bipartisan, and nonpartisan Oregon grassroots organizations, pleading with them to please walk out and offering support to stop a barrage of radical legislative concepts this session. The letter didn't specifically address SB554, but certainly got the point across that Oregonians did not feel comfortable handing over any more constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Concurrently, yet unconnected, a recall effort against Senator Fred Girod (R-Stayton), was announced. The petitioner announced the recall would begin, unless Girord were to lead the Republican Caucus in a walk out, to specifically stop SB554.

Suffice to say, Republican lawmakers, as the underdog and minority party, are pretty used to threats and intimidation. It's almost a hazard of the job. That being said, there are two sayings in politics that seem important to share here; "Politics are all about Relationships", and "Politics belong to those who show up".

Oregon Republicans are in an almost impossible situation, outnumbered, and working over time to leverage, whatever possible, in order to find helpful and meaningful ways to honor the voice of the people. Many are speaking out and asking those who feel voiceless in the legislative process, to start getting involved in the next round of elections. It's an unfortunate reality, but the party in charge gets to make all the rules, and if people aren't happy with who's in charge, now is the time to get active and help change the power structure.

Representative Daniel Bonham graciously gave the Northwest Observer some time after the chaotic Town Hall, and had some encouraging words to explain the current situation, and what's required going forward, "I think there are unlimited ways to get involved - but the most effective ways require relationships. Which takes time and energy - it’s an investment."

The Investment begins with elections, and at the local county level. Most people are unaware that once session begins the agenda is already set, as have committee assignments and which bills are a priority to pass. Due to the supermajority status of the Democratic party, the Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, and the Senate President Peter Courtney have already instructed their caucuses how to vote on each bill. That doesn't mean votes are set in stone, many lawmakers still vote their conscience or according to what's best for their district. This is why relationships are important to create and maintain.

If you're finding yourself frustrated this session, consider becoming a Precinct Committee Person in your local county party. Get plugged into groups that support your issue, and learn who's running for office. Campaigns provide critical networking opportunities, and a free education on the legislative process. Most importantly, each office has a separate and unique function, or scope of authority, learning the differences will help cut down on frustration and focus energy into the right direction for change.

The legislative session is only five months long, however, it's important to get involved on budget and steering committees, long before a bill comes before the legislative assembly.

Civic duty belongs to everyone, be the change you're demanding of others.


--Breeauna Sagdal

Post Date: 2021-04-25 19:37:41Last Update: 2021-04-25 23:09:09



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