SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Monday she won’t negotiate with Republicans who walked out to thwart landmark climate legislation, at least not until they return to the Capitol.
All eleven Republican senators didn’t show up to work for a fifth day Monday, denying Democrats the number of lawmakers needed to vote on a potential statewide cap and trade plan.
Brown, a Democrat, deployed the Oregon State Police last week to seek out Republicans, but many fled the state and remain outside the police’s jurisdiction.
Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger said in a statement he has yet to reach a deal with Democrats and that Republicans “intend to remain out of state.” Democrats have an 18 to 11 majority but need 20 members to conduct business under state law.
Brown blasted Baertschiger in an interview with The Associated Press, saying she refuses to negotiate with the Senate Minority Leader until he returns to the building.
“If he wants to negotiate with the governor of the state of Oregon, he needs to be in the building,” she said. “Or at least be in the state of Oregon.”
A spokeswoman for Baertschiger said he was unavailable to comment beyond the statement.
Republicans are protesting what could be the nation’s second statewide cap and trade program. The measure would dramatically reduce greenhouse gases in Oregon by 2050 by capping carbon emissions and requiring businesses to buy or trade for an ever-dwindling pool of pollution “allowances.”
Democrats say the program is critical to make Oregon a leader in the fight against climate change and will ultimately create jobs and transform the economy.
Republicans and other opponents, including the state’s struggling timber industry, say the proposal will kill jobs, raise the cost of fuel and gut small businesses in rural areas. They also say that they’ve been left out of policy negotiations, and that the measure represents an urban majority enforcing their priorities against the will of rural Oregon residents.
“To say that Republicans haven’t had a seat at the table is hogwash, baloney and a lot of other things that I can’t mention in polite company,” said Brown.
She said that her office spent hours negotiating with Republicans last week and that “there were many things put on the table” for a potential compromise. Republicans “walked” from those options, she said.
The governor also rejected conservatives’ push to send the measure to the ballot, saying that voters already approved strong climate policy when they elected a Democratic governor and a Democratic supermajority in the statehouse.
This is the second time Senate Republicans, who are in the minority, walked off the job to block a vote. Conservatives walked out for four days in May to block a $2 billion school funding increase, returning only when the governor struck a deal to table legislation on gun control and vaccine requirements.
Part of that agreement, said Brown, was that Republicans wouldn’t walk out again.
“I took priorities off the table that were key priorities for me and for Democrats generally. Sen. Baertschiger said three times they would not walk out again,” she said. “He broke that deal.”
This time, Republicans’ walkout attracted national attention after a tumultuous weekend that began with the Senate leader ordering the Capitol closed because of a “possible militia threat” from far-right groups, who threatened to join a peaceful protest organized by local Republicans.
One of those groups, the Oregon Three Percenters, joined an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 and has offered safe passage to senators on the run.
The threat, however, never materialized and fewer than 100 people showed up.
The governor said Statehouse closure and threats from Sen. Brian Boquist that state troopers should “come heavily armed” when they bring him back to the Capitol reflects a tense partisan divide felt on the national level.
“We thought in Oregon that we were above all that, above this type of divisive and partisan politics,” she said. “It’s really clear that what is happening in Washington, D.C., is seeping out to the states and I think that is the most unfortunate thing of all.”
Democrats have until the end of the week to get Republicans back to the building before the legislative session is set to end.
Legislators have yet to approve a majority of the state budget and other Democratic priorities addressing affordable housing, paid family leave and driver’s licenses for immigrants in the country illegally.