Republican Senators have once again walked out of the Capitol, leaving the body without enough members to conduct business. At issue this time is a vote on statewide climate change regulations, and Republican efforts to refuse cooperation have escalated quickly – some have fled the state at least one Senator threatened the state police with violence.
The vote on House Bill 2020 is to implement a cap-and-trade system into Oregon’s economy, a market-based means of combating climate change, generally considered a moderate approach. Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) began issuing $500 fines each day for members missing from scheduled sessions, and Governor Kate Brown expressed willingness to order the Oregon State Police (OSP) to physically bring the Senators back to the Capitol.
However, unconfirmed rumors (including from the wife of one Senator) place many of them outside of Oregon, and thus outside the jurisdiction of OSP. The Idaho State Police confirmed they are not searching for Oregon lawmakers, as they have not broken any Idaho laws. As for the fines, several GoFundMe accounts and social media-driven donations (including $5000 from former candidate for Governor, Knute Buehler) have cropped up to support the absent Republicans, but have provoked questions about the legality of such donations.
The Senators also personally escalated the situation by making threats against police sent to return them to Salem. Senator Brian Boquist claimed to have told OSP Superintendent Travis Hampton to “send bachelors and come heavily armed. I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It’s just that simple.”
The “Three Percenters,” a militia group known for its involvement in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge standoff in 2016, publicly offered the Senators “security” and “refuge.” Official statements say the Senators are not militia members and are not accepting their offer.
Some militia members planned to join the protests against HB 2020 at the Capitol on Saturday, but Oregon State Police interpreted some of these messages as a possible “militia threats” against the Capitol. The police advised Courtney to suspend their session on Saturday, June 22.
The police may have determined the threat as credible because the Three Percenters are known to the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extreme “anti-government” organization due to their members’ involvement in Malheur as well as the fatal “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA in 2017.
As part of the negotiations which ended their last walkout over an education bill funded by a tax on business, Republicans agreed not to engage in further walkouts or other delays. The clear violation of this part of the agreement may be why Courtney and Brown were more willing to take tangible steps to compel Republicans back to Salem. However, Republicans’ quick escalation toward violent threats and fleeing the state dampens the significance of fines or political agreements.
By Ian MacRonald