When GOP lawmakers fled town to avoid a climate change vote, Oregon's governor dispatched the police

The GOP senators who failed to appear for floor proceedings left the legislative body two members short of quorum

Published June 21, 2019 11:52AM (EDT)

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (AP/Andrew Selsky)
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (AP/Andrew Selsky)

Oregon Democratic Gov. Kate Brown dispatched state police on Thursday to locate missing Senate Republicans and bring them back to the state Capitol to legislate after some lawmakers fled the Beaver State in an effort to block the chamber's proceedings.

After more than eight hours of ineffective negotiations late into Wednesday night, 11 Republican state senators walked out of a session Thursday over disagreements on HB 2020, a "cap and invest" bill to address climate change. The GOP senators failed to appear later Thursday for floor proceedings, leaving the legislative body two senators short of having the quorum it needs to operate.

Senate President Peter Courtney, a Democrat, asked the sergeant at arms to search the Capitol for the lawmakers who failed to show up on the Senate floor for Thursday's session. That search was unsuccessful.

"This is the saddest day of my legislative life," Courtney said Thursday from the Senate floor. "Pure and simple, my heart is broken."

He then formally requested that Brown deploy Oregon State Police troopers to bring back the missing Senate Republicans. Brown granted that request.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that the Senate Republicans would turn their back on their constituents who they are honor-bound to represent here in this building," Brown said in a statement. "They need to return and do the jobs they were elected to do."

The Oregon State Police said in a statement that the governor has "given a lawful directive which the OSP is fully committed to executing." They are now on a hunt for the missing lawmakers.

State troopers are "utilizing established relationships to have polite communications with these senators. While we obviously have many tools at our disposal, patience and communication is and always will be our first, and preferred, option," the state police said.

GOP state Sen. Brian Boquist met Brown's initial warning to lawmakers by suggesting he would shoot state troopers if Brown sent them to round-up his Republican colleagues to vote on the bill.

"Send bachelors and come heavily armed," he said. "I'm not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It's just that simple."

Senate Democrats announced that a $500 fine would be imposed per senator, beginning Friday for each day they are absent from the Senate floor. The money will be deducted from their per diem and salary.

However, Senate Republicans only doubled down on their decision to walk out.

"Protesting cap and trade by walking out today represents our constituency and exactly how we should be doing our job," Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. said in a statement Thursday. "We have endured threats of arrest, fines and pulling community project funds from the governor, senate president and majority leader. We will not stand by and be bullied by the majority party any longer."

Baertschiger Jr. said his caucus "made the decision to walkout and have left the state to protest cap and trade, because it should be referred to the ballot [instead of voted on in the state legislature] so every Oregonian has a voice."

In response to the walkout and Brown's plans to the senators, an online fundraiser was launched to cover expenses for the Senate Republicans. As of Friday morning, it had raised more than $17,000 in support of the lawmakers.

"Please help our courageous senators," wrote the organizer, who identified herself as Carol Williams of Silverton.

The passage and signing of HB 2020 would have Oregon join 11 other states who use market-based approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The bill would set a statewide "cap," or an overall limit, on emissions each year to reduce emissions to at least 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80 percent below 1990 emissions level by 2050.

In order to achieve those reductions, the state would begin charging fuel importers and industrial facilities to purchase "allowances" for each ton of greenhouse gas they emit. Those credits would be bought at an auction and could then be traded among regulated parties.

As the emissions cap declined, emissions would theoretically become more expensive, thus spurring companies to reduce their consumption and related emissions. The revenue generated from the program will then be used to fund emission-reduction programs and other climate-friendly efforts.

State Sen. Majority Leader Ginny Burdick called the Republicans' walkout a "slap in the face to all hardworking Oregonians, particularly to those in their district."

"The taxpayers are paying them to do a job for their constituents, and they are not doing that job. Yet, they are collecting their salaries and per diem payments for not doing their jobs," she said Thursday in a statement. "This is not the example we should set for our children."

By Shira Tarlo

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