About the time you think politicians can’t go lower in the basement of public opinion, along comes a game of “musical states.” That’s when legislators of one party in one state collectively run to hide out in another to avoid a difficult vote.


Reminds me of a child who knows, when he gets home, he’s going to get a whipping for something so he goes to the neighbor’s house to stay overnight with a friend. Apparently the thoughtful architect of this legislative escape mechanism is about eight-years-old.

Take it to the next step: the U.S. Congress. Majority Democrats in the Senate are going to vote to federally legalize same sex marriage. Trying to stop the process, all Republicans get on a bus and go to Canada for an extended stay.

Or the Salem City Council schedules a vote on doubling parking fees downtown. Half the council promptly takes a bus to Eugene where family and friends send credit cards and care packages for the foreseeable future.

In my years of reporting on governing bodies from city councils to Congress, I’ve seen various officeholders “take a walk” on certain votes. It’s not the professional thing to do but it happens. More often than you’d imagine. But for a whole political party to take a hike, that’s a new phenomenon. And a bad one.

I’ve only seen one case where my sympathies went with the walker. In the ‘70’s in the Idaho House, Rep. Vard Chatburn, an elderly, rock-ribbed, Mormon, Republican farmer, attempted to get a bill passed on what amounted to assisted suicide. It violated some of his own long-standing beliefs and was a real test of his personal fortitude.

But he had spent a great deal of time prior to the legislative session with a lifelong friend, also a rock-ribbed Mormon, Republican farmer, who was dying. Not a quick death. But a long, slow, agonizing and painful one, brought about by a terrible cancer. Chatburn paid regular calls on his neighbor and boyhood friend. He watched the agony of someone he had loved all his life. He couldn’t do much. He could only be there. And watch. And wait for death’s relief.

The friend asked him, from his death bed, to use his position as a lawmaker to help others facing this same agonizing situation. They talked about a law that would allow people, in a hopeless and excruciating condition, to decide how to end life with whatever dignity was left and to give their families relief from the terrible burden they felt they were being. Before his friend died, Chatburn said he would.

He wrote a bill. He carried it through a Republican-dominated committee of his peers. And friends. He got the Republican Speaker of the House, another old friend, to bring it up for a vote; a vote he knew in his heart he would lose.

When the bill was called up, this short, thin staunch conservative farmer got to his feet, attempting to fulfill his promise to a friend of more than 70 years. The shoulders of his small frame slumped; his voice was not much more than a whisper; the tears on his cheeks abundant and free-slowing. This entirely sympathetic figure, known and respected by nearly all who listened, subordinated a lifetime of his own thoughts on the subject and made a full-throated argument for his cause. His friend’s request. His own pledge.

As members began reaching for their buttons to vote electronically on the legislation, Chatburn left his seat, stepped behind the green curtain that encircled the House chamber, and wept openly. He made his argument as he had pledged. But he could not vote his conscience as he wanted.

Back to today. Granted, the Republican governor of Wisconsin is being a jerk of the first order. Even some in his own party think he’s gone too far rejecting compromises proposed by both parties and concessions from the unions. But the political wars are full of jerks and you don’t win your fights by leaving the battlefield. Democrats there are dead wrong, too.

For whatever reason, Democrats in Wisconsin lost their legislative majority last November. It happens. Some days you get the chicken; some days the feathers. The accepted response is to conduct business as best you can until the next election, regroup and get back on the campaign trail. Not keep a Greyhound bus outside the statehouse for a fast getaway.

I’ve heard all sorts of excuses about why the Dems left the state: wanted time for supporters to get their acts together; wanted to slow down progress so they could form a plan of action; yadda yadda. None are good enough to justify the hasty exit.

None have come close to the day Idaho Republican Vard Chatburn gave his very best effort to fulfill a promise to a friend but couldn’t vote the way he knew he would have to. No.

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