SALEM, Ore. | Republican senators in Oregon who walked out to thwart landmark climate legislation didn’t show up to work for a fifth day Monday, with the GOP lawmakers insisting they will stay away and Democrats saying the minority party was stirring up “dangerous sentiments.”
The eleven GOP senators fled the Legislature on June 20 to deny Democrats the number of lawmakers needed to vote on legislation. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown sent the state police to seek out the Republicans and bring them back to the Statehouse for the vote, but the senators were still absent Monday.
Many have fled the state, where Oregon State Police have no jurisdiction.
Police can force senators into a patrol car to return them to the Capitol, but the agency has said it would use “polite communication” and patience to bring them back. All 11 Republicans have been fined $500 a day.
The debate over the climate legislation gets at the heart of a widening gap between the liberal priorities of cities like Portland and much of the rest of the state, where conservative causes hold sway with most rural residents. It has become a flashpoint for both sides.
The measure would dramatically reduce greenhouse gases in Oregon by 2050 by capping carbon emissions and requiring businesses to buy or trade for an ever-dwindling pool of pollution “allowances.”
Democrats say the program — which would be the second of its kind, after California — is critical to make Oregon a leader in the fight against climate change and will ultimately create jobs and transform the economy.
Opponents, including the struggling logging industry, say it will kill jobs, raise the cost of fuel and gut small businesses in rural areas.
The walkout attracted national attention after a tumultuous weekend that began with the Senate leader ordering the Capitol closed because of a “possible militia threat” from far-right groups, who threatened to join a peaceful protest organized by local Republicans.
One of those groups, the Oregon Three Percenters, joined an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 and has offered safe passage to senators on the run.
The threat, however, never materialized and fewer than 100 people showed up.
Senate Republican leaders and the Democratic president are negotiating, the governor’s office said. Republican Senate leader Herman Baertschiger said in a statement that he’s in contact with the chamber’s leaders but that “no deal with the Democrats has been made.”
The discussion has quickly morphed into something far beyond climate change.
Sen. Michael Dembrow, who’s behind the climate bill, said Republicans have used language that’s “irresponsible and dangerous.”
He referenced comments from Sen. Brian Boquist, who warned state police to “come heavily armed” when they try to bring him back to the Capitol.
“I’m really worried that this particular bill is being used to stir up the worst sentiments — the most dangerous sentiments we can imagine,” said Dembrow, adding that he hopes Republicans “can find a way to reject this path that Senator Boquist has taken them on and come back to do the people’s business.”
Boquist’s comments drew a rare rebuke from the Senate president and speaker of the House, who are both Democrats. No Republican senator has publicly spoken out against Boquist’s comments or the threat of violence over the weekend.
The Oregon GOP, responding to the Statehouse closure over the weekend, sarcastically tweeted a picture of peaceful protesters and joked that those at the rally were a “heavily armed militia” laying siege upon the Capitol while “Senate Democrats cower in fear.”
The tweet was widely spread and misinterpreted, garnering a response from national politicians, including U.S. Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat who offered to help Republicans “find a therapist.”
Democrats have until the end of the week to get Republicans back to the building before the legislative session is set to end. Legislators still need to approve a majority of the state budget and other Democratic priorities addressing affordable housing, paid family leave and driver’s licenses for immigrants in the country illegally.
Democrats have an 18 to 11 majority but need 20 members to conduct business under state law.
The governor said that she’s prepared to convene a special session next week if necessary.