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Oregon Police Working To Retrieve State GOP Lawmakers Avoiding Vote On Climate Change


And now to a political standoff in Oregon. Republican state senators have walked off the job to avoid voting on climate change legislation. Not a single GOP member showed up at the state Capitol yesterday for the vote. Democrats were having none of that. Here's Oregon's Senate president, Peter Courtney.


PETER COURTNEY: I am asking that the highest law enforcement branch in the state of Oregon go out and find my fellow legislators.

SHAPIRO: Well, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, also a Democrat, obliged. She has ordered state police to round up Republican senators and bring them back. Dirk VanderHart of Oregon Public Broadcasting joins us now from the state capital, Salem. Hi, Dirk.


SHAPIRO: How did things get so extreme?

VANDERHART: Well, let's start with the fact that Democrats have supermajorities in both chambers here and the governor's office. So, you know, they've been pretty successful this session at pushing through some very big bills. And now they are hoping to pass one of the more sweeping climate change policies in the country. It's a cap and trade program that would make Oregon only the second state after California to do so. But Republicans feel like this could be really detrimental to their mostly rural districts. And they've been trying to do anything they can to keep the bill from passing, at least in its current form. Democrats needed two Republicans to conduct business in the Senate, so this walkout effectively freezes things.

SHAPIRO: All right. Walking off the job seems like a very unusual maneuver, so does sending police after those absentee lawmakers. Can the governor legally do this?

VANDERHART: She can. She can. So there is a provision in the state constitution that says lawmakers can be compelled to attend a floor session in the Senate. And there's also a state law that says the governor can order the state police to enforce that rule. So the governor has done that, as you mentioned. And the question now is what that looks like in practice. You know, we know that state police have called some lawmakers and sort of asked them to come back. It's not clear what else they're doing - if they're knocking on people's doors, if they're surveilling them. There's also a likelihood that senators have crossed state lines to avoid police. You know, they've reportedly gone to Idaho or Montana. There's a lot of different rumors. And police have confirmed they're working with out-of-state resources to try to track folks down.

SHAPIRO: OK, so at least for the moment, we're not seeing state senators dragged away in handcuffs. But what has the reaction from lawmakers been?

VANDERHART: Well, Republicans have been reacting really, really strongly to this. This is something, by the way, that's happened before in Oregon. But it's been a while, and I think this is the biggest such effort in modern memory. Republicans have also taken exception to the fact that Democrats are now fining them $500 a day they don't show up. They're talking about killing their budget priorities. There is a lot of tension here. And that really came to light in comments one senator named Brian Boquist made to a local TV station, KGW, this week. Here's what he said.


BRIAN BOQUIST: 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.

VANDERHART: So that - yeah - that comment has gotten a lot of attention as you can imagine. And it's actually spurred heavier police presence here in the capital. We should mention very quickly that we are also seeing on social media right-wing militia members vowing to protect Republicans if police come for them. Republicans have said they don't condone that and are not involved.

SHAPIRO: But, of course, Oregon does have this recent history of armed standoffs. So...

VANDERHART: That's right.

SHAPIRO: ...Given the extraordinary state of things, is it even possible for the state legislature to get back on track?

VANDERHART: That is very, very unclear right now. And things do not appear to have been productive so far. Republicans are sort of demanding changes to this climate bill, or they want it to be referred to voters. Democrats have so far been very unwilling to do that. And we should mention the legislature here has to adjourn by June 30, which is a week from Sunday. There are policy bills. The state's budget is hanging in the balance. And we are all very much wondering what's going to happen.

SHAPIRO: And so it's not just the climate change bill. None of those initiatives can have any action while the Republicans are gone.

VANDERHART: Many of them could be dead, especially if they have not passed the Senate. That's the worry.

SHAPIRO: Dirk VanderHart of Oregon Public Broadcasting speaking with us from Salem, Ore. Thank you very much.

VANDERHART: Thanks, Ari.


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Dirk VanderHart