Bend State Rep. pens explanation on staying in Salem, bucking GOP walkout

Bend State Rep. Cheri Helt on Wednesday penned a lengthy explanation on why she remained at the Capitol while her Republican colleagues left the state to protest a climate change bill moving forward in the legislature.

Oregon has become a front line in the battle over how to address global warming, with Democrats prioritizing a bill that would charge polluters for carbon credits, and the minority Republicans objecting, saying it would increase costs for Oregonians.

The Republicans walked out of the Senate Feb. 24th before the bill come to the floor for a vote. House GOP members joined the walkout a day later.

Helt, and Bend State Sen. Tim Knopp, were the only two GOP lawmakers who remained in Salem.

“As a moderate who wants to support common -ground climate legislation, I’m deeply saddened that partisan polarization has pushed Oregon’s Capitol to this moment,” she said in a Facebook post on Wednesday morning. “I believe we should try harder and reach further to find common ground. I know that my position angers those on the right who demand greater party loyalty and those on the left who believe I should support this legislation no matter its flaws.

Helt said she felt she owed it to her “bosses – the people of Bend whom I was elected to serve” to explain her thinking behind staying behind.

“I believe the vast majority of Bend residents share a desire for moderate, bipartisan leadership, including the growing number of people who choose not to register with either major political party,” she wrote. “But what does this mean in practice? For me, it means leadership and willingness to compromise. Rolling up my sleeves, bringing people together, making concessions and creating policies that work for all Oregonians. It means not placing any single issue ahead of all others.”

The Oregon House rules committee voted last week to issue subpoenas for GOP lawmakers who walked out of the capital this week. The Republicans, however, have the left the state and have no intention of returning until the cap and trade bill dies or Democrats agree to send the measure to voters.

Meanwhile, the business of government continues in the Capitol with House and Senate committee meetings and other legislative tasks taking place.

Her full statement is below:

Why I remain in the Capitol

This past week Republican legislators in the Oregon House and Senate left the Capitol building to prevent a vote on a controversial piece of legislation. I remained in the Capitol and did not join my Republican colleagues. I want to share my thinking with my bosses — the people of Bend whom I was elected to serve — why I remain in the Capitol.

I believe in moderate, bipartisan policy making. While there are many die-hard Republicans and Democrats in our community, I believe the vast majority of Bend residents share a desire for moderate, bipartisan leadership, including the growing number of people who choose not to register with either major political party. But what does this mean in practice?

For me, it means leadership and willingness to compromise. Rolling up my sleeves, bringing people together, making concessions and creating policies that work for all Oregonians.

It means not placing any single issue ahead of all others. It means avoiding litmus tests. It means rejecting rigid right-left ideological extremes and finding common ground whenever possible. It means being tolerant and open-minded of different points of view. Sometimes, it means accepting that my position on a particular issue, no matter how strongly I feel about it, may not be the majority among my colleagues.

After serving Bend in elected office for the past ten years – on the school board and now as your state representative — I’ve learned that it’s important to have grace in victory and that there’s no shame in principled defeat. That’s the heart of representative democracy.

At the center of this controversy is legislation called cap and trade (Senate Bill 1530). Its well-intentioned goal is to do Oregon’s part in fighting global climate change. In practice, it places new limits on emissions from manufacturing businesses and energy production while also putting new costs — taxes and fees — on the fuels we use to drive our cars and trucks, heat our homes, cook our food and power our businesses. The hundreds of millions collected each year from individuals and businesses are supposed to be spent by state government for energy-related projects.

My primary objection to this bill is that I believe the significant economic costs on hard working Oregonians outweigh the minimal climate benefits for the world. I say this as someone who for ten years has voluntarily paid more each month for our restaurant business to purchase renewable energy from our local utility.

In Bend, the high cost of living is a major problem. The day -to -day costs of housing, gasoline, food, child care and health care are a real challenge for many in our community — especially those living paycheck to paycheck or on fixed incomes. Bend is becoming unaffordable for many.

This bill makes life more expensive and threatens the jobs and livelihoods for many small businesses, particularly in farming and transportation. So, I am a “no” vote on this bill. I also voted no on House Bill 2020, a similar bill that passed the Oregon House last year. I would vote to let Oregonians decide the issue on the ballot. What I won’t do is deny those legislators that support this bill the ability to vote.

As a moderate who wants to support common -ground climate legislation, I’m deeply saddened that partisan polarization has pushed Oregon’s Capitol to this moment.

I believe we should try harder and reach further to find common ground. I know that my position angers those on the right who demand greater party loyalty and those on the left who believe I should support this legislation no matter its flaws. In the end, the voters of Bend will have their say about all this come election time.

In the meantime, I’ll be at the Capitol doing my best to serve the people of Bend, whether you voted for me or not, and to be your moderate voice and vote in the Oregon House of Representatives.

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