Republican State Lawmakers In Oregon Go Missing Ahead of Climate Change Vote
Eleven Senate Republicans in Oregon high-tailed it out of the state capitol of Salem this past week, and the Democratic governor has ordered state police to go and round them up.
At issue is a vote on House Bill 2020, a sweeping climate bill that would make Oregon the second U.S. state, after California, to mandate economy-wide reductions in emissions.
As mandated by the bill, emissions from every sector of the state’s economy would need to decline 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2035, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
The bill would also bring Oregon into a regional carbon trading system, the Western Climate Initiative.
The Republican senators, all of whom oppose the bill, claim that if passed, it would devastate their districts.
The problem for Republicans is they have only one way to see that the measure doesn’t pass — to run.
Though Democrats currently have supermajorities in both chambers of Oregon’s legislature, they need at least two Republicans to be present to hold a quorum to conduct business. The walkout by all of the Republican members of the Senate, has brought the chamber to a standstill.
On Friday, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, also a Democrat, sent the state police to retrieve them, and also imposed a fine of $500 a day, per senator, for each day they don’t show up for work.
In doing so, Brown relied on a provision in the state constitution that states lawmakers can be compelled to attend a floor session in the Senate. There is also a state law that says the governor can order the state police to enforce that rule.
Because there are rumors that some of the fleeing Republicans may be hiding out in Idaho or Montana, Oregon’s state police are coordinating their search for lawmakers with counterparts in those two states.
As of Monday morning, none of the Republicans had been found.
Last Thursday, the day the Republicans took off, Brown expressed disappointment over what she sees as a misguided stunt.
“It would have been historic for Oregon, historic for the country, and frankly historic for the world,” she said of the climate bill shortly after the senators disappeared.
“Unfortunately, Senate Republicans have failed to show up and failed to do their jobs,” she said.
In announcing her decision to call out the Oregon State Police Brown said the missing Republicans had turned “their backs on their constituents who they are honor-bound to represent in this building.”
The Republicans, who want significant changes to be made to the bill, remained defiant on Monday, the fifth day in a row their absence from the state capital prevented a vote on the climate change.
Oregon Senate Republican leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. said in a statement that Republicans were being “bullied by the majority party.”
Another Republican state senator, Brian Boquist, went further, taking to Twitter to threaten the police who are trying to find the wayward lawmakers.
“Send bachelors and come heavily armed. I’m not going to be a political prisoner,” Boquist said.
Also showing up on social media posts were right-wing militia members vowing to protect Republicans if police come for them.
The Oregon Capitol building was then shut down on Saturday due to a “possible militia threat.” A group of local Republicans were expected to protest inside the Capitol that afternoon and anti-government groups, including the Oregon Three Percenters, threatened to join in support, thereby prompting state police to recommend the closure.
The GOP lawmakers have distanced themselves from those statements and said they don’t condone them.
A GoFundMe campaign aimed at covering fines for the wayward lawmakers has already exceeded its $20,000 goal. The fund-raiser raked in more than $22,000 in less than 24 hours.
“Please support their decision to protect your family against this disastrous bill. All the money raised will pay for expenses for the senators,” the campaign’s page said over the weekend. “The ruling majority has prohibited them from raising funds on their own.”
Exactly how — and when — it will all end is anybody’s guess.
In May, the Republicans avoided the Oregon Senate chamber for four days to extract concessions in a school funding bill.
What’s different this time is the ticking of the clock. The Oregon legislature is scheduled to adjourn on June 30, and the fate of several bills — not to mention the state budget — hangs in the balance.
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