Oregon Republicans flee the state to avoid voting on a major climate change bill

“Send bachelors and come heavily armed,” one Republican state senator warned police.

By Umair Irfan, VOX, Jun 21, 2019, 3:58pm EDT
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown lamented that Republicans fled the state to avoid voting on a historic climate change bill during a press conference on June 20, 2019. KATU News

Twelve Oregon Republican lawmakers are on the run from the law, having fled the state Senate in Salem on Thursday to deny quorum for a vote on a major climate change bill. The legislation would establish a statewide cap-and-trade scheme for carbon dioxide.

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown authorized state police to find the lawmakers and bring them back. They are each being fined $500 for every day there aren’t enough senators for a vote. (So far, it’s been two days.) Oregon State Police said they are also coordinating with law enforcement agencies in nearby states to find the Republicans.

Brown lamented the stunt to avoid passing the bill. “It would have been historic for Oregon, historic for the country, and frankly historic for the world,” she said during a press conference Thursday. “Unfortunately, Senate Republicans have failed to show up and failed to do their jobs.”

Republicans were defiant, however. Oregon Senate Republican leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. said in a statement that Republicans were being “bullied by the majority party.”

Another state senator in hiding, Brian Boquist, went further, threatening the police who are trying to round up the wayward lawmakers. “Send bachelors and come heavily armed,” he said. “I’m not going to be a political prisoner.”

All this for a climate change bill.

As Vox’s David Roberts explained, Oregon’s climate proposal, House Bill 2020, is truly significant:

Oregon would be only the second US state to mandate not just greenhouse gas emission reductions in the electricity sector, as so many other states and cities have done, but economy-wide emission reductions. Across every sector — electricity, transportation, and industry — emissions would decline 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80 percent by 2050.

The bill would also bring Oregon into a regional carbon trading system, the Western Climate Initiative. Ted Sickinger at The Oregonian/OregonLive has a good, thorough rundown of why Republicans oppose it. But in a nutshell, they’re arguing it will hurt industry and rural residents.

Fleeing the state to thwart the bill is an unusual tactic, but it’s not the first time Oregon lawmakers have walked out on the job. In May, they left the Oregon Senate for four days to extract concessions in a school funding bill.

Democrats currently have supermajorities in both chambers of Oregon’s legislature, but they need Republicans to hold a quorum to conduct business.

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