Sen. Bill Hansell

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” Act 2 Scene 7).

This is one of the Bard’s more familiar quotes, and it fits well with my experience in the “political theater” of the just completed Special Session.

As the 2018 Special Session began, it was clear to me that few, if any, of the key actors in legislative leadership in either chamber were very excited about having to deal with a Special Session. Few of the rest of us in supporting roles felt any differently.

Most, if not all, of the press reviews of this production were negative. I have yet to read an editorial before the Special Session that described it as anything but political theater.

Players gathered on May 21 for the Special Session to deliberate what became known as HB 4301. The stage had to be set, because a committee had to be appointed, a bill written, introduced and passed out of committee to the House floor for debate, all within a few hours. Then on to the Senate.

Special Sessions are supposed to be called for emergencies. As was brought out in the House floor debate, this emergency was created when the governor did not veto SB 1528, which denied 380,000 Oregon small businesses federal tax cuts. It was a $1.3 billion hit to our small businesses.

What emergency there was, was in fact caused by the governor. Her emergency fix would impact maybe 6,000 of those affected by her signing SB 1528. Try as we might, the governor was unwilling to amend her bill. She had center stage, and only her ideas would be considered.

It was “politics over principle,” as Rep. Bill Kennemer stated in his floor debate. Several legislators suggested the real emergency was Governor Brown’s reelection campaign.

An editorial from the Eugene Register Guard captured the difficult position in which the Republicans found themselves. To oppose the governor’s plan would require opposing a tax cut. This certainly played out in the House debate, when almost every Republican speaker spoke in opposition but then voted for the bill. They were boxed in, and only one Republican cast a negative vote.

Act 2 of the play took place in the Senate, but with different actors and dialogue. In his floor speech,
Sen. Cliff Bentz provided the clarity I needed to cast my “no” vote.

To summarize his soliloquy: 1) There was no emergency. 2) Foundational to tax policy should be equity. 3) In giving 6,000 “lucky folks” an unfair advantage, HB 4301 was inequitable. 4) Only the wealthiest of the potential 6,000 could even qualify. 5) HB 4301 made absolutely no sense.

The curtain came down on this political theater production when the vote was tallied and HB 4103 passed the Senate 18-12. There didn’t seem to be any applause as we actors exited stage right. My guess is most Oregonians realize this play was really “Much Ado About Nothing.”

State Senator Bill Hansell represents District #29, which stretches from the Idaho border to The Dalles Dam. He lives in Athena where he and his wife, Margaret, raised their six children.