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.

Cases: 356061

Reported Deaths: 4275
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah55695704
Washington38673322
Marion36719454
Clackamas29660309
Lane27624302
Jackson22982310
Deschutes20211125
Umatilla14451150
Linn12780130
Douglas12065243
Josephine9349196
Yamhill8674113
Klamath7965118
Polk733681
Malheur561776
Benton546531
Coos501294
Columbia379744
Jefferson372352
Union318449
Lincoln318039
Crook287546
Wasco287441
Clatsop243329
Baker202529
Tillamook196432
Hood River192137
Morrow184423
Curry180025
Harney113726
Grant100013
Lake92412
Wallowa68612
Gilliam1544
Sherman1503
Wheeler1121
Unassigned00

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Cases: 4842472

Reported Deaths: 71202
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Los Angeles148181426506
Riverside3712935030
San Diego3660564183
San Bernardino3582135663
Orange3241845550
Sacramento1593332308
Kern1459621644
Fresno1458772084
Santa Clara1453911896
Alameda1205301400
San Joaquin1025821721
Ventura1009841166
Contra Costa998841008
Stanislaus860701331
Tulare80203967
San Francisco54375646
San Mateo54112622
Monterey50885587
Solano46021341
Santa Barbara45160523
Merced42299581
Sonoma40925402
Placer39342425
Imperial35999766
Kings32801322
San Luis Obispo29945332
Madera23876285
Shasta23851352
Butte23738270
Santa Cruz21018220
Yolo20353248
Marin17692244
El Dorado17169149
Sutter13913175
Napa12882100
Yuba1008582
Tehama9510110
Humboldt9243108
Nevada914290
Mendocino763687
Lassen754347
San Benito744472
Tuolumne688089
Lake6605104
Amador544064
Siskiyou450546
Glenn436733
Calaveras389381
Del Norte358342
Colusa307218
Inyo211140
Mono16703
Plumas16417
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Trinity87711
Modoc6865
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Unassigned1820
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