The last time Republicans picked up and walked out of the Oregon Capitol in protest of climate change legislation, back in June of 2019, former state Sen. Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario) was right in the thick of things.
Now on the sidelines after giving up his seat to run for Congress, Bentz is nevertheless experiencing strong feelings—not so much FOMO, more deja-vu—as his fellow Republicans flee to Washington, Idaho, and points beyond in order to deny a quorum on the same topic.
“Most people don’t understand what it is like to pick up and leave the state and be stuck in another space and not be able to go home,” Bentz says. “It just shows you how worried and concerned we Republicans are about the incredibly negative impact of this crazy policy that my Democrat friends seem insistent upon passing. I have to hand it to my colleagues and my Republican friends for having the courage to try to walk once again and to try to head off this really bad policy.”
The walkout began in the state Senate on Monday. GOP House members joined in on Tuesday, leaving both chambers without the quorum necessary to pass any legislation. The action has thrown the entire rest of the short legislative session, scheduled to wrap up on March 8, into question, including bills that are purportedly of bipartisan interest on more funding for services to the homeless, wildfire prevention and best management practices for state forests.
Democrats have made it clear that they are not amused.
“House Republicans walking out on the people of Oregon in service to oil companies, polluters and other special interests is cowardly. We are here continuing to do our work. Republicans need to come back to work and do the job Oregonians elected them to do,” House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner wrote on Facebook.
Last year’s walkout landed rank-and-file members of the legislature prime talking head spots on Fox News and CNN, and national coverage of the redux has already kicked into gear, with the Washington Post and the New York Times weighing in.
At stake: A plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions that would level up as the years go on, by forcing polluters to pay more for their carbon emissions. Backers of the bill say that with financial penalties in place, industries will shift how they operate, moving to cleaner technology; opponents say that the bill would put rural industries out of business, and pass the costs of compliance on to consumers.
Republicans have pressed for referring the measure to the ballot; Democrats counter that they were elected on a platform of cap and trade, enough of a mandate to merit legislative action.
While all is quiet inside the Capitol today given that business has ground to a halt, outside there are competing rallies, with progressive-leaning organizations urging the GOP to return to work and a counter-demonstrations by members of Timber Unity, a loosely organized group that organized last spring to protest cap and trade.
Hundreds are rallying at the @OregonCapitol to protest the GOP walkout, who walked off the job to break quorum to stop climate legislation. #timberunity supporters are driving by and blaring their horns while speakers are trying to talk. #orpol #orleg pic.twitter.com/OqcXV5S6cJ— Shane Burley (@shane_burley1) February 25, 2020