POLITICS

Oregon GOP Senators Disavow Militia Group Amid Standoff With Governor

The lawmakers haven't accepted a militia's offer of defense from state troopers sent to look for them. But the specter of violence remains.

Republican state senators in Oregon have disavowed a local militia group that offered to defend them amid a standoff with the state’s Democratic governor.

Eleven Republican senators left the state Capitol in Salem last week as a maneuver to block Democrats from voting on and passing an expansive greenhouse gas emissions bill by denying them a quorum. After Gov. Kate Brown tapped state troopers to try to bring back the wayward senators, a gun-toting militia called the Three Percenters vowed to do “whatever it takes” to defend them from state police.

But on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Oregon’s Republican Senate Caucus confirmed that the senators hadn’t accepted any such help.

“The senators are not with any militias and are not accepting their help,” Kate Gillem said. “Senate Republicans do not condone the use of violence on state troopers. This is a peaceful protest against” the bill that addresses climate change.

Still, the specter of violence has marked the standoff, and it remains.

The Capitol was closed by law enforcement officials on Saturday, after “a credible threat from militia groups” was made, according to a text sent to state senators that was shared with The Wall Street Journal.

Dane Bowen, commander of a state chapter of the Three Percenters called the Oregon III% Security Force, told HuffPost on Tuesday that the group hadn’t received a call from any GOP senator but was in “standby” mode. 

“I didn’t expect to get a response,” he said. “It would be controversial for these senators to get involved with a controversial group like ours.”

He did acknowledge, however, that the guns he and others possess were but a phone call away, and that the group wouldn’t hesitate to fight police efforts to round up the senators if it was asked to.

“We believe that the state police swore an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States and of Oregon, not swore allegiance to Kate Brown,” he said. “We believe the Constitution is being violated in multiple ways right now. ... We do not take an offensive stance, but if a senator is going to be forcibly taken by the state police, if it is not constitutional, we will defend that senator if they ask.”

Oregon state law requires at least 20 senators in the 30-seat chamber be present for business to be conducted — and Democrats, while the chamber’s majority, hold just 18 seats. In the six days since the walkout, the Senate has been unable to vote on any legislation, and with the end of the legislative session rapidly approaching, more than 100 bills are at risk of dying. 

The GOP focus on killing the bill that would impose various measures to significantly lower emissions in Oregon may be paying off ― The Oregonian on Tuesday reported that the Senate’s Democratic leader, Peter Courtney, said the legislation may now lack the votes to pass, if and when the chamber reconvenes.

The bill, which passed the Oregon House, has been a priority for Brown. As the stalemate over it continued, on Tuesday she lambasted the Senate Republicans, saying they “have blocked a bill that provides a better future for our state and for our children, and the tactics they employed to do so are not just unacceptable, but dangerous.”

Some of the Republicans appear to have fled to Idaho, the only neighboring state under GOP control. Idaho State Police representatives confirmed to HuffPost that they wouldn’t get involved in the Oregon battle because the senators “are not suspected of breaking any Idaho laws.”

Three Percenters based in Idaho also helped stoke fears of violence after they touted an inflammatory quote from one of the Oregon senators on the lam ―  Brian Boquist ― that threatened armed resistance if police tried to force him back to Salem. 

“Send bachelors and come heavily armed,” Boquist said last week in advance of the walkout. “I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It’s just that simple.”

Protests on both sides of the emissions bill were scheduled in and around Oregon’s Capitol throughout the week. On Tuesday, demonstrators gathered in Salem to demand senators come back for a vote.

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