Oregon State Police Are Searching for Republican Lawmakers Afraid of Voting on Climate Policy

No Republican lawmakers here.
Photo: Oregon DOT (Flickr)

Democrats hold supermajorities in both houses of Oregon’s legislature and the governorship. That means that they can pass basically whatever the hell they want unless, of course, Republican legislators decide to desert the capital.

With a vote due today on a bill that would create a carbon cap and trade system—a market-based climate solution favored by conservatives—Republican senators did just that. Three Republican senators confirmed the walkout to OPB on Thursday, effectively blocking the state senate from voting on a version of the legislation that already passed the house. In response, Governor Kate Brown has dispatched the state police to roundup the lawmakers on the lam.

“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,” Brown said in a statement announcing her decision. “As the executive of the agency, I am authorizing the State Police to fulfill the Senate Democrats’ request.”

Republicans are hiding out and claiming they won’t be found, according to OPB. But Brian Boquist, one of the wayward Republicans, said that if the cops came for him, they should be sure to “[s]end bachelors and come heavily armed.” So yes, we’ve reached the threatening police stage of this whole debacle.

What has Republicans so scared is a bill mandating that Oregon would reduce its carbon emissions across the economy (not just the electric sector) 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. To get there, the state would create a carbon market where companies could trade a slowly decreasing allowance of carbon emissions permits. Senate Republicans said they’re concerned it would hurt their poor, largely rural districts by raising gas prices.

The bill is designed to help people who may be hit with those kind of impacts, though, with money raised through the sale of carbon permits going back into the state’s highway fund to improve transit as well in jobs, a just transition for impacted communities, and low income communities disproportionately exposed to climate change’s impacts.

It’s that last point that’s the sticking one that caused senators to flee. Senator Cliff Bentz, the Republicans’ policy lead, told OPB that he was pushing for Democrats to get “money out of social justice programs and instead direct it to transition. That means helping freight in particular.”

If there is a lesson in all of this, it is that Republicans actually engaging on climate legislation continues to be a pipe dream. The House version passed without a single Republican vote. Now, state senate Democrats are getting to enjoy the second walkout of their legislative session (the first was over a school funding bill).

In addition to being chased down by the cops, the senators also face fines of up to $500 per day by the senate. Thanks to our very normal political system, they can just use campaign funds to pay the fee. Here’s a fun rundown of how that works and the donors who have filled state Republicans coffers from the Oregonian’s Rob Davis, all of which have some very direct reasons for opposing this bill.

Either way, once the cops round them up or they find their way back to the capitol, the vote will happen. Brown also announced she was planning to schedule a special session for the senate to meet on July 2, two days after a scheduled recess, to vote on the bill assuming there’s not a vote before then.

Earther has reached out to Brown’s office for comment on the situation and we’ll update this post if we hear back.


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