The Slatest

Top Oregon Democrats Say Climate Change Bill Is Dead After GOP Senators Fled the State

Gov. Kate Brown speaks at a press conference
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown speaks at a 2015 press conference.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

A landmark piece of climate change legislation that stalled after Republican senators fled to Idaho to avoid a roll call is likely dead, the top Democrat in the Oregon Senate said Tuesday. But despite the Republicans’ stunt, the Senate president said it was his own party that did not have the votes to pass the sweeping legislation. It appears Republicans high-tailing it to the hills with police in pursuit are more organized than Democrats who actually show up to work.

“What I’m about to say, I say of my own free will. No one has told me to say this,” said Democratic Oregon Senate President and possible hostage Peter Courtney, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. “House Bill 2020 does not have the votes on the Senate floor. That will not change.” Gov. Kate Brown, who last week ordered state police to track down missing Republicans, also conceded Tuesday that the legislation was dead, but she blamed Republicans for blocking a bill “that provides a better future for our state and for our children, and the tactics they employed to do so are not just unacceptable, but dangerous.”

Climate activists turned their backs on Courtney as he spoke on the Senate floor. Democrats who supported the law appeared frustrated and even “livid” with Courtney’s declaration, OPB reported. They wouldn’t even speak to reporters.

It’s not clear whether Courtney’s declaration is enough to get the fugitive Republicans to come back to work after their six-day walkout. The governor asked Republicans to return to the state capitol by Wednesday. But GOP senators appear to be questioning whether the bill’s death was faked.

As OPB reports, it isn’t clear whether Courtney decided to announce the bill’s dire prospects as a ploy to get Republicans to return or if the bill actually doesn’t have the support it needs to pass. The Senate president typically does not bring bills to a vote that would not pass. Both chambers of Oregon’s state legislature are controlled by Democrats, but the party’s majority in the Senate is slimmer than in the state House, where the legislation had already passed. The legislative session ends on Sunday, but Brown has threatened to call a special session.

The bill would have charged polluters for their greenhouse gas emissions. Supporters said the law would have allowed the state to cut emissions and invest in a green economy and infrastructure. The fugitive Republicans said it would hurt the economy. Oregon would have been only the second state to pass such a law after California, and activists called the bill’s death “the biggest failure of public leadership in Oregon in recent memory.”

If the bill is actually dead, it will mark an anti-climactic end to a raucous week in Oregon state politics, one that also saw threats from a far-right militia shut down the Oregon State Capitol on Saturday. All that for nothing. But lawmakers in Alabama and Georgia are likely grateful for their week out of the national spotlight.