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In Oregon, stark rural-urban divide fuels climate dispute

The divide in Oregon between the state's liberal, urban population centers and its conservative and economically depressed rural areas has made it fertile ground for the political crisis unfolding over a push by Democrats to enact sweeping climate legislation.

Posted: Jun 26, 2019 10:29 AM

By GILLIAN FLACCUS Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The divide in Oregon between the state's liberal, urban population centers and its conservative and economically depressed rural areas has made it fertile ground for the political crisis unfolding over a push by Democrats to enact sweeping climate legislation.

Eleven Republican senators are entering the seventh day of a walkout Wednesday to deny the supermajority Democrats the quorum needed to vote on a cap and trade bill that would be the second of its kind in the U.S. The stalemate has drawn international attention, in part because right-wing militias have rallied to the GOP cause.

One Republican lawmaker said state troopers dispatched to hunt down the rogue lawmakers should "come heavily armed" if they want to bring him back to the Capitol — a departure from traditional bipartisan cooperation.

"This is not the Oregon Way and cannot be rewarded," said Democratic Gov. Kate Brown. "The Republicans are driving us away from the values that Oregonians hold dear, and are moving us dangerously close to the self-serving stalemate in Washington, D.C."


READ: Oregon Governor says GOP must return to state


Experts say the standoff was inevitable given the state's political make-up.

Oregon has a national reputation as a liberal bastion best known for its craft beer, doughnuts and award-winning wine. But while the state's urban centers lean left, about 40% of residents — mostly those in rural areas — consistently vote Republican, said Priscilla Southwell, a University of Oregon professor who wrote "Governing Oregon."

"The reality is that it is a much more divided state than people realize," she said. "It's kind of like a perfect storm for this kind of thing to happen."

That political divide also translates to an economic chasm for many. As Portland has boomed, huge swaths of the state have been left without enough money to keep libraries open or fully staff sheriff's departments.

Logging, which once thrived, has almost vanished because of environmental restrictions and a changing global economy. Rural voters worry the cap-and-trade bill would be the end for logging and trucking.

"It's going to ruin so many lives, it's going to put so many people out of work," said Bridger Hasbrouck, a self-employed logger from Dallas, Oregon. "If the guys that I'm cutting for can't afford to run their logging companies, then I have to figure out something different."

The proposal would dramatically reduce greenhouse gases over 30 years by capping carbon emissions and requiring businesses to buy or trade from an ever-dwindling pool of pollution "allowances."

Democrats say the legislation is critical to make Oregon a leader in the fight against climate change and will ultimately create jobs and transform the economy.

Republicans say it will kill jobs, raise the cost of fuel and other goods and gut small businesses. They also say that they've been left out of policy negotiations, an assertion the governor called "hogwash."

Yet that sense of rural alienation gives right-wing groups such as the Oregon Three Percenters a way into the conversation by portraying the climate bill as a stand-in for a number of concerns held by rural, conservative voters nationally, said Chris Shortell, chairman of Portland State University's political science department.

"It highlights the ways in which local politics have become nationalized," he said. "It's not just about the climate change bill in Oregon. Now it's about, 'Are Democrats legitimate in acting this way?'"

Some also worry the climate standoff could put Oregon back in the crosshairs of an anti-government movement that in 2016 used the federal prosecution of two ranchers to mobilize an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. One militia member was killed and another injured in weeks-long standoff protesting the U.S. government's management of vast swaths of the American West.

During the current political crisis, one militia group offered safe passage to the rogue GOP senators and the Capitol shut down last Saturday because of what police called a credible "militia threat."

Right-wing and nationalist groups have been increasingly visible in Oregon over the past five years as rural voters get more disillusioned, said Eric Ward, executive director of the Portland-based Western States Center.

"In frustration, there are organizations and individuals who have stepped into a leadership gap and are attempting to provide parallel leadership," he said. "But that leadership is led by ... bigotry and threats of violence."

For more than 50 years, the rural U.S. West has undergone tremendous change as federal protections for forestland and endangered species reshaped residents' relationship with the land, said Patty Limerick, faculty director at the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

"Sometimes a historical shakeup takes a couple of decades for people to adjust and sometimes it takes a couple of centuries," Limerick said. "I think we ought to understand that this is a really different world from 50 years ago — and no wonder that some people feel that it's time for acts of desperation and dramatically staged opposition."

For now, it's unclear how that drama will play out. The governor said late Tuesday that the Democrats no longer have the votes needed to pass the bill even if Republicans were to return, but the GOP still stayed away.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 43793

Reported Deaths: 673
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Multnomah9502166
Marion6024109
Washington599178
Umatilla343545
Clackamas326766
Lane246727
Malheur194938
Jackson17967
Deschutes118513
Yamhill101315
Linn84515
Polk66815
Jefferson60710
Morrow5517
Lincoln51813
Union4842
Benton4636
Klamath4223
Douglas3688
Wasco34916
Hood River2841
Columbia2711
Josephine2703
Coos2601
Clatsop2480
Baker1403
Crook1132
Tillamook740
Curry581
Wallowa492
Lake430
Harney350
Sherman200
Grant120
Gilliam110
Wheeler10
Unassigned00

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Confirmed Cases: 923648

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Riverside675521306
San Bernardino641311073
Orange594421468
San Diego55898885
Kern34114420
Fresno31195439
Sacramento25882499
Santa Clara24665404
Alameda23636463
San Joaquin21988492
Contra Costa18877243
Stanislaus17814400
Tulare17730291
Ventura14409166
Imperial13023338
San Francisco12277145
Monterey1153892
San Mateo11278159
Santa Barbara9886126
Sonoma9601136
Merced9588155
Kings848683
Solano758676
Marin7107127
Madera506676
Placer429059
San Luis Obispo424032
Yolo325060
Butte313453
Santa Cruz284825
Shasta199931
Napa199816
Sutter188912
San Benito144915
El Dorado13684
Yuba133810
Mendocino115421
Tehama9219
Lassen7711
Lake70216
Glenn6793
Nevada6328
Humboldt56910
Colusa5536
Calaveras34721
Amador33716
Tuolumne2855
Inyo24015
Siskiyou2140
Mono1822
Del Norte1801
Mariposa812
Plumas760
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