In a last-ditch effort that has police officers' attention, Oregon Republicans blocked a climate change vote by fleeing the state. As a result, the Senate lacked the quorum needed to hold a vote. Now, state police have been authorized to pursue and retrieve those lawmakers.
Democrats have a supermajority in the Oregon state Senate, giving them more than enough votes to pass an ambitious cap-and-trade bill that Republican state senators unanimously oppose. And that's what they planned to do on Saturday. But in order to hold a vote at all, the Senate must achieve quorum — that is, have at least 20 senators present in the chamber. So, the Republican senators simply left the state, thus blocking the Senate from even holding a vote on the bill — or any bill.
In response, state Democrats asked Gov. Kate Brown, also a Democrat, to send the Oregon State Police to retrieve the missing Republican senators. Brown quickly granted the request and admonished the Republicans for fleeing the state.
"The Senate Republicans have decided to abandon their duty to serve their constituents and walk out," Brown said in a statement. "The Senate Democrats have requested the assistance of the Oregon State Police to bring back their colleagues to finish the work they committed to push forward for Oregonians. As the executive of the agency, I am authorizing the State Police to fulfill the Senate Democrats’ request."
Republicans have remained defiant, however. Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. said in a statement that he and his fellow lawmakers, by virtue of not having enough votes to defeat the climate change bill, were being "bullied by the majority party," and wouldn't return to the state. In an interview with Oregon reporter Pat Dooris, Republican Sen. Brian Boquist said he refused to be a "political prisoner."
"Sending the threat out, 'Oh, we're going to have a special session,' or 'I'm gonna send the state police to arrest you,' Boquist said. "This is what I told the superintendent: Send bachelors, and come heavily armed. I'm not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon."
According to KOIN 6, state troopers have authority to arrest the Republicans if they don't cooperate. In a statement, however, Oregon State Police said that they are "utilizing established relationships to have polite communication with these Senators" in an attempt to compel them to return to the state.
"While we obviously have many tools at our disposal, patience and communication is and always will be our first, and preferred, option," the statement said.
This isn't the first time Oregon Republicans have left Oregon in order to prevent a vote on legislation they opposed. They did so in May as well in protest over an education funding bill, the Statesman Journal reports, but returned after four days, and the bill passed.
“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 her statement. “They need to return and do the jobs they were elected to do.”