Oregon GOP Senators Return To Capitol After Dems Agree To Kill Climate Bill

Republican senators fled the state last week to prevent Democrats from voting on an expansive cap-and-trade bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
Truckers and loggers opposed to the carbon capping bill hold a rally at the Oregon Capitol on Thursday morning.
Truckers and loggers opposed to the carbon capping bill hold a rally at the Oregon Capitol on Thursday morning.

Oregon’s Republican state senators will return to the Capitol on Saturday following a weeklong walkout over a proposed climate change cap-and-trade bill, Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. (R) announced on Friday.

“Our mission walking out of this building was to kill cap and trade,” Baertschiger said at a press conference. “And that’s what we did.”

Eleven Republican senators fled the state last week in order to deny Democrats the necessary quorum to vote on and pass an expansive greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade bill. But chaos quickly ensued as Gov. Kate Brown (D) authorized state troopers to find and retrieve them and threats of violence emerged.

Though the Democratic Party holds an 18-11 majority in the state Senate, Oregon law requires 20 senators be in attendance to hold session. With all of the GOP Senate members in hiding, the Senate was unable to vote on any legislation for eight days and the bill — once expected to pass — now faces almost certain death.

Senate Democratic leader Peter Courtney indicated on Tuesday that the bill no longer had enough support among Democrats — and Baertschiger said Friday that both Courtney and Brown had privately assured him that their party would now be voting no.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek was one of several prominent Democrats to decry the Republicans’ drastic move, accusing them of “threatening our democratic institution and subverting the will of Oregon voters.”

Baertschiger was asked to comment on the threats of violence that hung over the weeklong walkout — which included one Republican senator implying that he would use deadly force on officers sent to retrieve him and law enforcement officials closing the Capitol on Saturday due to “a credible threat from militia groups.”

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

Baertschiger said he was unfamiliar with the threats made against the Capitol but did respond to Boquist’s remarks.

“You gotta remember at that time a lot of tempers were flaring,” he said. “Obviously, his statement was not helpful.”

When asked about the fear held by some cap and trade opponents that state Senate Democrats would continue to push for the bill, Baertschiger said he understood their concern.

“The trust in the Oregon state Capitol is probably at the lowest it’s ever been, and that saddens me,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we have a constitutional responsibility to get these budgets back and to keep Oregon functional.”

There are only two days left in the legislative session and more than 100 bills are at risk of dying. But when he was asked if all of his fellow lawmakers would return this weekend, Baertschiger wasn’t sure.

“I hope so,” he said.