Republicans in the Oregon state Senate are trying to absent themselves from the capital to prevent a vote on a cap-and-trade bill that will impose onerous gas and utility increases on Oregonians.
The Republicans, in the minority in both houses, can’t prevent the legislation from passing. And Democratic Governor Kate Brown intends to sign it into law. But the Republicans have enough senators to prevent the quorum necessary to call a vote in the Senate.
So they’ve declined en masse to show up and enable the Democrats to hold a vote and pass the cap-and-trade bill. It’s a coordinated action led by the Republican Senate leadership:
“Protesting cap-and-trade by walking out today represents our constituency and exactly how we should be doing our job,” Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. said in a statement early Thursday morning defending his caucus’s decision to protest the vote.
According to AP, Kate Gillem, a spokeswoman for the Senate Republicans, “confirmed on Thursday that some members left the state to avoid a vote because state police don’t have jurisdiction outside Oregon.” At least one senator is said to be in Idaho.
Governor Brown has responded by dispatching the Oregon state police to search out and round up Republicans on the lam. The Democrats only need two of them to force a quorum.
This isn’t the first time state legislators have fled their states to prevent votes they can’t defeat. In recent years it has more typically been Democrats who used the tactic; in 2003, a group of Texas House Democrats camped out at a hotel in Oklahoma for 46 days trying to prevent the adoption of a redistricting plan after Republicans had won a majority in the statehouse for the first time in decades. State senators fled to New Mexico during that time. Ultimately, however, these heroics didn’t prevent the redistricting plan from being passed.
In Wisconsin, in 2011, Democrats fled the state to prevent a vote on then-Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to curtail bargaining powers for public-service unions. That bid too ultimately failed.
The AP story recounts two earlier episodes featuring Republicans (or at least politicians other than Democrats), including one that took place in the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C., in 1988. It did have an Oregon connection, however, as it involved Republican Senator Bob Packwood being “carried feet first into the Senate chamber after Democrats ordered the arrest of Republican senators who were denying a quorum.” (An old UPI report is here.)
In the other incident, as recounted by AP, “Abraham Lincoln once leapt out of a window in an attempt to deny a quorum when he was a lawmaker in Illinois.” This event was in 1840, and Lincoln was a Whig at the time, there being as yet no Republican Party.
AP indicates the Oregon Republicans will be fined $500 a day per person, starting Friday, if they remain absent from the Senate. This isn’t the first GOP attempt to deny a quorum during this legislative session in Salem: Republicans sought in May to “block a school funding tax package. The standoff lasted four days, until the governor struck a deal to table legislation on gun control and vaccine requirements.”
In the current case, the disruptive nature of cap-and-trade measures in both a political and economic sense may make it unlikely that the governor can incentivize them back to the capitol with unrelated legislative concessions. Oregon Republicans will probably continue their resistance at least until it seems like they have demonstrated the best faith they can with their constituents. The effort is quixotic, but taking the long-term view, Oregonians may need to suffer the effects of a cap-and-trade regime to realize what a bad idea it is, and change their voting habits.