Oregon Republicans Disappear for Another Climate Vote
SEATTLE — Less than a year after Oregon’s Senate Republicans fled the state with passports in hand and hid out in Idaho cabins to avoid voting on a climate change bill, they have disappeared again.
With Democrats seeking to advance a new proposal to cap the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, most Republicans refused to attend a floor session on Monday morning, and a search by the Senate chamber’s sergeant-at-arms failed to find them.
That left the Senate with just 19 members on the floor — one short of a quorum needed to vote — and threatened to derail a range of bills in the final two weeks of the state’s legislative session.
Senate President Peter Courtney, a Democrat, called on senators to return to work, saying the climate bill had sufficient votes to pass in a chamber with a large Democratic majority.
“I implore my fellow senators to please return to this chamber,” Mr. Courtney said. After he announced that there were not enough members to continue work, some people in the gallery clapped; Mr. Courtney rebuked them, underscoring the rising tensions in a state struggling to figure out a path forward amid the threats of a changing climate.
The Senate’s Republican leader, Herman Baertschiger Jr., said in a statement that Democrats had refused to work with Republicans and had voted down all their proposed amendments. “Senator Courtney’s actions leave no other option for Senate Republicans but to boycott and deny quorum,” Mr. Baertschiger said.
The state’s Constitution requires two-thirds of senators to be present before voting can take place. Democrats hold 18 of the chamber’s 30 seats, meaning they need two Republicans to join them to reach a quorum.
While the cap-and-trade proposal has changed over time, the dispute mirrors what occurred last year, when a similar proposal led Republicans to leave the state to avoid potential roundup by state troopers sent by Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat. That showdown ended after Democratic leaders acknowledged that they did not have enough support to pass the measure.
At the time, Ms. Brown bemoaned the walkout as an indicator that the divisiveness of federal politics had spilled down to the state level. On Monday, she said the Republicans’ “boycott” was undemocratic, calling on them to show up to “make their voices heard rather than shut down state government.”
The current cap-and-trade plan would place a limit on emissions that would grow more stringent over time. It focuses on the sectors the state has identified as primary contributors to greenhouse gas emissions: fossil fuel companies, electric utilities and industrial manufacturers.
Economists and scientists have promoted the idea of placing a price on carbon emissions as a key strategy to combat climate change, pressuring industries that harm the planet to make a shift and giving them a financial incentive to do so. But the potential costs of the plan have angered some businesses and voters, in particular those from rural areas.
Mr. Baertschiger, the Republican leader, has characterized the measure as a “gas tax disguised as an environmental bill.”
Republicans in Oregon have called for voters to decide the issue, instead of the Legislature. Voters in Washington State rejected ballot measures with some similarities in 2016 and 2018.
The Senate majority leader, Ginny Burdick, said in a statement on Monday that the Republicans’ attempt to avoid voting on the legislation was a dereliction of duty.
“Serving in the Legislature is a great honor,” she said. “Walking out on the job is dishonorable and disrespectful.”