Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Shields To Introduce Anti-Escalation Bill in OR House

In a move that may not earn Oregon any federal comity points in the quest to get back those timber payments but which is rapidly becoming a statement of moral imperative across the country, this morning House Rep. Chip Shields (HD43) will introduce a joint memorial resolution opposing the escalation of the war in Iraq. Similar in construction to HM38 from the 2005 session, which was itself modeled on the federal HJR55, updated and even with an infusion of Portland's antiwar declaration, the bill will spell out the sentiment of the body against any kind of escalation and calling for withdrawal of American forces.

The bill has been in the works since shortly after the current session began (we've been privately encouraging the House Democrats to take this step--preferably as soon as possible). Scheduling has not yet taken place on committee assignments or voting, but the expectation is for the bill to rest first with the Elections, Ethics and Rules Committee, chaired by Diane Rosenbaum (HD42). When Karen Minnis and Wayne Scott ran the House in 2005, Shields' bill was unceremoniously dumped in the State and Federal Affairs Committee, more informally known as Scott's Trashcan--since that's where bills went to die if Scott wanted them dead. At a bare minimum, expect a different result in committee this time.

As for general passage, I asked Shields whether the resolution would be a surprise to the other side of the aisle, given the minority's well-established pattern of trying to screw things up with futile but distractive shenanigans, and thus the need to keep important things secret until the last minute. It will not be a secret however; there have been discussions on language and tone designed to secure not only Republican votes, but even cosponsors. (At the time of our conversation none from either party had signed on, but the bill text was still being evaluated by House legislative counsel and had not been distributed. I was hoping to get a copy of the text before the bill was submitted, but our usually full-flowing info pipeline to Salem is a bit clogged at the moment). I asked if the word "escalation" appeared, and he said yes, adding that "surge" pointedly did not appear. If bipartisanship on this is wishful thinking by Shields, he doesn't show it: "Support for this bill shouldn't be a partisan issue; Chuck Hagel certainly doesn't think so."

Shields had been approached by his constituency as early as March of 2005 for such a bill, but at the time--a bare two-month veteran of the House--he felt such an audacious bill to be premature. That it only took a couple more months before experience be damned, indicated the importance for him in making a statement--and that passion and urgency has by no means flagged. By spring of 2006, as Shields campaigned for re-election, the drumbeat against war was vibrating noisily in his NE Portland district. In a town hall attended by a robust 200 constituents, the message rang clear: Jane, stop this crazy thing!

I asked why he felt there was utility or purpose in a purely symbolic vote from a body with no power to affect the war. It's the obvious question to ask, but from my perspective it's an easy one to answer. Shields knows his purpose cold, which is the voter's best window into whether this is a serious and sincere piece of legislation or just political showboating:
This is the most important issue of our time. We've lost 3,000 soldiers, some 25,000 wounded, and any where from 60 to 100 thousand Iraqis. If there is one thing to take from the last election, it's that this policy has failed should be reversed. This bill is a message to Congress about Oregon. The states provide veterans' services and there are all kinds of health issues with returnees, plus the Governor is the nominal Commander in Chief of our National Guard. The very lives of Oregonians are at stake.

A majority of Americans support this position--it is Main Street public opinion. The President is drastically off course.
Asked for a speculative vote count, Shields was confident of 31 Democratic votes, but would not venture a guess at how many Republicans would voice their conscience. As a caucus insider told me, it will come down to "[Scott's] ability to lock down their caucus," but Shields remains hopeful: "I hope our colleagues can choose to vote what's best for the country rather than best for the caucus." Indeed. If all the Republicans who want to vote for this are allowed to, I bet it gets 50 votes, and it would be much more than just another vote crushed by the small-minded and power-obsessed cult of the GOP House leadership if they don't let it happen. It would be, in our minds, a failure of conscience and duty.