Senate GOP threatens walkout, Gov. Brown responds with threat of state police
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A series of threats, including one against police officers, reverberated through the Oregon Capitol on Wednesday as Senate Republicans considered a second walkout instead of allowing a greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-invest bill to pass.
In response, Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, threatened to call a special session starting July 2 and stay in Salem until the Legislature's work is complete. Under the state Constitution, the Legislature is supposed to adjourn by June 30.
She and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, also have hinted at the possibility of using the Oregon State Police to compel Republicans senators to return to the building if they walk out.
"We ask for, and take on responsibility, as elected representatives of the people of Oregon to show up and speak up on their behalf," Brown said in a statement. "I am prepared to use all resources and tools available to me as governor to ensure that Oregonians are being served by their leaders."
But during an interview with Portland television station KGW later in the day, Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, threatened Oregon State Police officers if they tried to bring him back to the Capitol.
"Send bachelors and come heavily armed. I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It’s just that simple," he said.
His comments quickly became the talk of the Capitol after a video of the interview was posted to Twitter.
The Senate Republican Office declined to comment on his statement. Oregon State Police also declined to comment. The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment.
At least since Monday evening, Senate Republicans have debated among themselves the prospect of a walkout.
In early May, Republicans avoided floor sessions for nearly a week demanding the Legislature pass significant PERS reform and also send the Student Success Act back to committee.
They ended up returning to the Capitol after Democrats killed two of their own top bills — House Bill 3063, which would have removed the non-medical vaccine exemption for schoolchildren, and Senate Bill 978, the session's omnibus gun control legislation.
It was Brown who proposed the final compromise. Democrats also agreed to include Republicans in deliberations around HB 2020 — the greenhouse gas emissions bill — and Republicans agreed not to walk out again.
Republicans have said there has not been a good faith effort to include their proposals in the legislation; Democrats disagree.
"My caucus and I have been threatened by the Governor, Senate President and Majority Leader with fines and arrests because they do not agree with our stance to protect rural Oregonians from cap and trade," Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, said in a statement. "Walking out is part of the conversation because the Governor is not willing to move on her position on the bill, and she is only representing Portland and the environmental community, not rural Oregonians."
According to the Senate Republican Office, Baertschiger is asking for the emergency clause in HB 2020 to be removed, which would open up the possibility that the bill could be referred to voters. But based on negotiations up to this point, Republicans doubt Democrats will agree to such a compromise.
As of Wednesday evening, no decision about walking out had been made.
During the previous walkout, Courtney and Brown declined to compel the return of Senate Republicans, nor did they levee and fines. This time around would be different, they said.
"We will use the tools that are available to us," said Carol McAlice Currie, spokeswoman for the Senate President's Office.
Tensions first boiled over during the Wednesday morning Senate floor session.
While debating a bill about changing the requirements around initiative petition electronic signature sheets, Sen. Boquist seemed to make a threat against Courtney.
He said the bill under debate, Senate Bill 761, amounted to a "political coup" and that he had been threatened by his Senate colleagues with the state police or jail time.
“We’re at the 11th hour. If you don’t think these boots are for walking, you’re flat wrong, Mr. President," Boquist said to Courtney. "And if you send the state police to get me, hell is coming to visit you personally.”
Murmuring spread across the Senate after his statements, as several Democrats rose, prepared to counter Boquist. Lawmakers later said his statement was unlike anything they've heard before on the floor.
In response, Courtney said: "I understand that people are very upset right now about a lot of things. I would like for decorum to be thought about often. I think individuals can express their opinions in the strongest possible terms in a way that recognizes the decorum of the Senate and also the individuals that are all here together to do the same thing: do the best we can for the people of the state of Oregon. I ask that you please remember that when you are talking.”
Courtney then gave Boquist the opportunity to comment on his response. Boquist apologized to Courtney, but said he was "fine" if any of the other members were offended by what he said.
Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, rose a few minutes later to respond — the only other Democrat to do so.
“Mr. President, I am upset, outraged, to hear an extraordinary comment in public, a threat against members of this chamber, against a member of this body and the body itself," Frederick said. “What I heard just earlier was a threat and the apology is not enough. That is the kind of thing that we can simply not allow on this floor in, my opinion."
A tense Senate continued to debate the bill for several more minutes and it passed 17-11. Courtney recessed the Senate immediately after until 2 p.m.
Contact Connor Radnovich at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-399-6864, or follow him on Twitter at @CDRadnovich
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