As you may recall, Republican state senators in Oregon made national news last month when they left the state to deny Democrats a necessary quorum for a vote on climate-change-related carbon-cap-and-trade legislation that the GOP claimed would damage the logging and trucking industries. They came back in triumph as Democrats admitted they didn’t have the votes in the state senate to pass their bill. But Democratic governor Kate Brown vowed to implement the system as much as possible via executive action, as the Oregonian reported:
Brown said her first choice would be a legislative compromise, and hopefully one that could be reached in the next few months. But she also said she was directing her staff and state agencies to explore alternatives — including the use of executive powers and agencies’ rule-making powers — if a collaborative approach doesn’t lead to successful legislation.
“We’re not entirely clear on the scope of her ability in the executive space to enact some of this or what other levers she has available,” said Brad Reed, a spokesman at Renew Oregon, a coalition of organizations behind HB 2020. “She clearly wants to work with legislators first.”
So it’s all a little hazy. But Brown’s talk of executive action, and perhaps a perceived political opening, were enough to spur Oregon Republicans to begin a petition drive to recall the governor (i.e., force a special election to potentially remove her from office), as another report from the Oregonian explains:
“(Brown) has threatened to usurp legislative power with executive orders to implement her failed legislation, deciding single-handedly what is best for Oregon,” [Oregon GOP chairman Bill] Currier wrote on the petition, on which he used his official GOP email address. “This is not the Oregon way.”
Monday was the first day opponents could file petitions to recall Brown, who has now served six months of her second term after winning reelection in November. Organizers now have 90 days to gather 280,050 valid signatures from voters, according to the Secretary of State’s office. That’s a high bar: it’s not unusual for campaigns to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars collecting signatures to qualify initiatives for the ballot, even though recent initiatives have needed just over 100,000 signatures to qualify.
If recall supporters gather enough signatures, a special election could be scheduled sometime in November.
Brown originally took office in 2015 when her predecessor John Kitzhaber resigned after a conflict-of-interest scandal. She won a special election to complete Kitzhaber’s term in 2016 by seven points and was reelected to a second term last year by a slightly narrower margin. Brown is not terribly popular: According to the last quarterly Morning Consult assessment of gubernatorial job approval, her ratio is 41/44, sixth worst in the country. But her state is pretty reliably Democratic; Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump there by 11 points in 2016, and there hasn’t been a Republican governor since 1986. The way recalls work in Oregon (one of the first states to enact a recall law, in 1908), if the vote happens, it would either confirm Brown in office or declare the governorship vacant; there’s no provision for simultaneous selection of a successor. That’s different from say, California, where in 2003 voters defenestrated Gray Davis and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger in one fell swoop.
Speaking of California, that state’s cap-and-trade system is the inspiration for Brown’s effort, and the fact that it was largely created by executive agency action may provide a template for similar path for Oregon.
Aside from her struggle for climate-change action, Kate Brown is best known nationally as America’s first openly bisexual statewide elected official (which she became upon her election as secretary of state in 2008) and then the first openly bisexual governor.