Oregon GOP Senators Defiant After Governor Threatens Arrests

Legislators have fled state to block a gas and emissions tax

Gov. Kate Brown expected to sign drug defelonization bill
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D.) / Getty

Oregon Senate minority leader Herman Baertschiger said his caucus remains defiant in its efforts to stall proposed cap-and-trade legislation.

"My caucus and I continue to stand firm and remain out of the state," he said, criticizing media reports that claimed Republican senators, who fled the capitol to avoid voting on the bill, have been coordinating with militia groups.

"The peaceful rallies on the steps this weekend were done by Oregonians who will be directly impacted by the gas and emissions tax or House Bill 2020. Democrats were reactionary to rumors and lacked the courage to face these Oregonians by closing the Capitol building on Saturday when it was scheduled to be open," Baertschiger said in a Sunday evening statement.

Liberal journalists latched on to a jocular tweet from the state Republican Party's official Twitter account as evidence of support from right-wing militia groups. The featured photo was of a rally earlier in the week featuring truck drivers and loggers protesting the legislation.

Baertschiger brushed away claims his caucus was coordinating or collaborating with the militia-style groups known to exist in rural parts of the state.

"I don't see any of my members doing that," he told the Washington Free Beacon in an interview.

Baertschiger said he met and talked with protestors last week when they came to the capitol and heard from many who support his efforts to stop the cap-and-trade bill.

"Those are people that have jobs. They are people that took off a day of work to travel to Salem to tell us [their concerns]" with the proposed legislation, he said.

A report from the state's Legislative Revenue Office said the legislation would reconfigure "much of the energy sector and the state economy," and because the proposed cap-and-trade implementation would take place over three decades, the success of the program has "many uncertainties."

"It will dramatically affect how we do business in Oregon," the senator told the Free Beacon. He specifically cited the negative effects the legislation would have on the state's rural communities, where the timber and agricultural industries remain prevalent.

When Republicans voiced concerns to Democrats about the bill's economic consequences, Baertschiger said Gov. Kate Brown and Democratic state legislators scoffed.

"We can re-educate them. They can get new green jobs," was the response from his Democratic colleagues to concerns workers may lose their jobs, according to Baertschiger.

"You're not going to take a logger or a rancher and say well you no longer can do your occupation anymore and give them a green new job," Baertschiger said. "That's not going to fly."

Baertschiger said he was not proud his caucus had to resort to fleeing the capitol to stop the bill, but he and the 11 other senators viewed it as the "nuclear option" after the governor and their Democratic colleagues proved unwilling to reform the legislation.

Because of its far-reaching economic effects on the state, Republicans have called for the bill to be voted on as a statewide referendum. In Oregon, statewide ballot measures must achieve supermajority support to go into effect, and Baertschiger predicted it would fail in a statewide vote after the uproar.

Last week Gov. Brown ordered the state police to round up Republican senators who had fled the state capitol ahead of a proposed Thursday vote on the legislation. Baertschiger said the governor has also threatened to pull funding from the fled senators' districts.

"It saddens me to see where we are today," he reflected.

The state's legislative session is scheduled to conclude at the end of the week. If Republicans don't return to the capitol before then, any outstanding legislation working its way through the chamber would become void, meaning legislators would have to call a special session this summer to deal with it.