PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — A retired nurse, not fleeing Oregon state senators, doomed Gov. Kate Brown’s keystone environmental policy that had been in the works for more than a decade, according to interviews and public records.
When Senate President Peter Courtney announced in June that his chamber didn’t have the votes to pass cap-and-trade legislation, the credit for its failure fell to 11 Republican senators and a boisterous Capitol rally by the timber industry.
But state Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, a Gresham Democrat, had already quietly told Courtney she wasn’t the expected yes vote supporters had counted on. Her defection meant Courtney couldn’t field enough Democratic votes to pass the ambitious legislation.
Her little-known role reveals the power of the lobby and the nitty-gritty of state politics that turns on one-on-one dealings more than public statements and committee hearings.
This account was the result of interviews with Monnes Anderson, other legislators and lobbyists and public records such as emails and text messages.
Monnes Anderson is a 73-year-old retired nurse who won a House seat in 2000, then moved to the Senate in 2004. She’s long been a reliable vote for Democrats, though lobbyists say she also has a reputation for being easily swayed.
“Boeing came to me,” Monnes Anderson said. “People think I am easily swayed. I think I am objective and opened minded about the pros and cons about important legislation.”
That reputation made her a political target as the cap and trade plan appeared headed for legislative approval.
Democrats had been pursuing the cap-and-trade program for years, acting out of concern that Oregon play a role in reducing greenhouse emissions and finance environmental innovation. Legislation encapsulating the idea had failed in one legislative session after another, but the 2019 Legislature offered hope the plan would finally become law. Brown won re-election in part based on promising to pursue the program and Democrats won enough seats in the House and Senate to push through new laws over the Republican minority.
That didn’t mean House Bill 2020 was going to get an easy ride. An interim committee spent months working up the proposal. During the session, legislators held 23 hearings and considered 116 amendments. On June 17, the House passed the measure 36-24 after a floor debate that exceeded six hours. Its passage in the Senate was considered inevitable by even some of its most vigilant foes.
Courtney needed just 16 senators to say yes. He had 18 Democrats to work with.
Two Democrats already publicly declared they would vote no — Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose and Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay. That left Courtney the 16 Democrats he needed to move ahead, but Monnes Anderson in May started voicing concerns, triggering an intense lobbying effort by industry, environmentalists, and the governor’s staff.
Monnes Anderson was emerging as the critical vote. Her concern was focused: She didn’t want the legislation to hurt a major employer in her urban district, Boeing. Monnes Anderson acknowledged in an interview that she didn’t have a great understanding of the dense policy, but was given pause when Boeing approached her with concerns.
Boeing’s Gresham factory employs 1,600 workers. The facility gets its electricity from a wholesale supplier rather than a public utility. Public utilities got free allowances in HB 2020, in part because of a state mandate forcing them to move from coal power and also because the state has oversight of them. The state has no way to see how private suppliers rely on clean or dirty energy production, or ensure free allowances would go toward stabilizing energy rates rather than profiting shareholders.
Boeing produced an analysis that determined HB 2020 would increase the Gresham factory’s energy costs by $1 million per year. But text messages acquired by the Capital Bureau show when the governor’s staff asked for that analysis, company officials declined, saying it was proprietary information.
Emails between Brown’s chief of staff, Nik Blosser, and Boeing representatives show the company shifted its requests as the governor’s office tried to placate Boeing — and Monnes Anderson.
Rich White, Boeing’s government relations manager, wrote in a June 10 email that the company’s concern with House Bill 2020 was that its industrial classification wasn’t included in the bill. Adding the code assured Boeing it would be included in the program, therefore receiving benefits to reduce the blow of possible cap and trade cost increases. Blosser agreed to add it.
The next day, Boeing’s lobbyist emailed Blosser, saying that including the code wasn’t enough to get the company on board. The company insisted that other amendments proposed by industry allies be adopted. The amendments Boeing asked for would have gutted the program and went far beyond Boeing’s initial focus on energy costs.
The change left Blosser befuddled. “Are you saying now that you don’t want the Boeing NAICS code added to the bill through amendment 110? Your lobbyist, JL Wilson, seems to be saying that,” Blosser wrote to White.
White and Blosser declined to comment.
Losing a crucial vote
About that time, Monnes Anderson met with Paige Spence, an Oregon League of Conservation Voters lobbyist. The senator reiterated what she had said for months, though she never wanted to discuss the policy in detail, and didn’t understand it, Spence said. “She always said she was going to be a yes.”
In the version that went to the House for a vote, Boeing got its classification amendment and nothing more. By then, the governor’s office understood that Monnes Anderson had emerged as a pivotal vote in the Senate.
The day the measure passed the House, the Gresham senator met in her office with Blosser to negotiate over what it would take to get her to vote yes. They met again the next morning and then that afternoon.
Opponents to the legislation also recognized that Monnes Anderson had become key to killing cap and trade. On the same afternoon she met with Blosser, Monnes Anderson also met with industry lobbyists Shaun Jillions, Paul Cosgrove and Kevin Campbell. The two Democratic senators already committed to voting no – Johnson and Roblan – sat in as well.
Jillions, a business lobbyist who heads Oregon Manufacturing and Commerce, led industry opposition to the bill and he focused on Monnes Anderson when he heard she was on the fence.
She said she found the industry pressure off-putting.
“I just wanted to be separate from that group,” she said of Jillions and his industry associates. Monnes Anderson only recalled one such meeting, but Jillions said they were weekly in June.
Jillions said Monnes Anderson was one of five moderate Democrats in the Senate, along with eight in the House, he had been working for months. The notion that he suddenly turned her against cap and trade is wrong, he said.
“Of course it’s ‘Shaun Jillions uses misinformation to get one senator,’ and that’s simply not true,” he said. “We had targeted her from the beginning. I wouldn’t say there was a shining light moment.”
Monnes Anderson met with Brown’s staff again during the next two days but her concerns about Boeing remained. Boeing stayed in close touch, with its government relations manager checking in with Monnes Anderson by phone on June 19 and 20.
She said she never told Boeing directly how she would vote.
During this period, Monnes Anderson also met with environmental groups, Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, and Courtney. She said since she was negotiating with Blosser, she never told Burdick and Courtney that she was a hard no and they never pressured her to support the policy.
She also met with Rep. Karin Power, D-Milwaukie, who championed the bill for House Democrats. In that meeting, House Speaker Tina Kotek participated via phone, but none were able to persuade her to commit to supporting the legislation. “I kind of stuck in my heels and said ‘this is not fair,'” Monnes Anderson said.
Monnes Anderson finally went for a private talk with Courtney. There, she said, she told the Senate president that she would vote against House Bill 2020.
Courtney had lost his crucial 16th vote, but few knew it.
‘Easy to pick off’
Tuesday, June 25, was a key day in the bill’s fate. By then, 11 Republican senators had left the state, blocking Senate action in what they hoped was a political roadblock to stop the legislation.
That morning, at 9:43 a.m., Monnes Anderson emailed an advocate for Renew Oregon, an advocacy group lobbying for the bill, as she had most weeks.
“I hope to support this bill if it comes to the floor,” she wrote.
Seventeen minutes later, Courtney walked into the Senate and surprised his colleagues by announcing the votes weren’t there. He didn’t explain.
Monnes Anderson’s actions stirred accusations that she was bought by Boeing, but campaign records showed the company had been a relatively minor donor. There was talk of challenging her in the 2020 election – but Monnes Anderson said she doesn’t plan to seek re-election.
Some in her party accused her of telling all sides what they wanted to hear.
“That’s what they say, but I was open,” she said. “I was very open about what I needed. I get blamed for a lot of stuff but that doesn’t bother me.”
Monnes Anderson said she repeatedly made her concerns known to Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, a chief architect of the bill. Dembrow recalled one formal meeting that lasted about 10 minutes, but a handful of conversations conducted on the Senate floor or in hallways. She never directly told him how she would vote, just that she wouldn’t support an unfair bill.
Dembrow and Spence believe Boeing was being less than forthcoming in the process, and was working to make the bill softer on industry overall, not just better for itself. “If Boeing used renewable energy, they wouldn’t be affected by the bill at all,” Dembrow said.
Boeing’s media director, Paul Bergman, declined to be interviewed and didn’t respond to a list of written questions.
Spence said she believes Boeing used Monnes Anderson to tank the bill. “I think the industry folks found her easy to pick off, knowing she hadn’t really dived in,” Spence said. “I think there is a reason she was targeted.”
On June 29, Monnes Anderson sent an email explaining her dissent to media and constituents. It was a more detailed attack of HB 2020 than Monnes Anderson had ever given, leading some to believe Jillions wrote it.
Monnes Anderson said that wasn’t true. She said she did have help drafting the explanation — from Jennifer Dresler, a lobbyist for several industrial organizations that would be impacted by cap and trade.