Oregon’s state Legislature appeared to be on track last week to pass a sweeping climate change bill aimed at curbing emissions in the state. At least until Republicans in the state Senate decided to go to extremes to prevent a vote, making a move that resulted in the governor calling in Oregon State Police. And the drama didn’t end there: Democrats canceled a session Saturday over safety threats from a far-right militia group.
The bill would make Oregon the second state after California to adopt cap-and-trade restrictions and would dramatically reduce emissions by 2050, but Republicans argue it would drag down the state’s economy. Eleven GOP senators who opposed the bill went all out to prevent a vote, fleeing the Legislature on Thursday. Oregon Democrats have a supermajority, but they aren’t able to vote without a quorum. The move effectively halted the legislative process, and Democratic Gov. Kate Brown ordered state police to find the senators and haul them back to the statehouse. Some had fled to Idaho and other states, out of the jurisdiction of the Oregon police. Each senator faces a fine of $500 per missed session.
But there’s more. Senate leadership shut down the state capitol Saturday after receiving threats from far-right militia groups planning to protest that day outside the statehouse in support of the GOP senators. The Senate’s president, the entire Democratic caucus, and the building’s staff received threats, according to the Associated Press.
A spokeswoman for the Senate president told the Washington Post that she feared the groups were connected to Idaho rancher Ammon Bundy and his militia, who in 2016 led an armed occupation and 41-day standoff with federal authorities at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.* Members of the Three Percenters of Oregon, a militia group that took part in Malheur takeover, said they would participate in the capitol protests.
Republicans in Oregon appeared to think the militia and threats to Democratic lawmakers were funny when they took to Twitter to satirize the situation. “Heavily armed militia lays siege to Oregon’s Capitol as Senate Democrats cower in fear,” the Oregon GOP tweeted. As the Oregonian pointed out, the joke seemed to be insinuating that Democrats were scared of peacefully protesting Oregonians, but the state police had deemed the threats against Democrats credible.
The joke almost immediately drew criticism—in part because the photo the Oregon GOP posted on Twitter appears to actually be from a peaceful protest on Wednesday, and in part because many viewed the tweet as promoting violence. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez weighed in, condemning the tweet, as did several other national figures. But that didn’t stop the Oregon GOP from continuing to post similar jokes mocking the Democrats’ decision to close the capitol over the militia threats.
The Senate tried to meet again Sunday, but they still couldn’t reach a quorum. GOP senators missed another session on Monday, and they’re vowing to “run out the clock” on the bill. Oregon’s legislative session ends June 30, but the governor has said she would call a special session if there is still work to be done, according to Oregon news station KOIN.
This isn’t the first time that lawmakers have become fugitives in another state during a legislative session to delay a vote on a bill. In 2003, Democrats in Texas fled to neighboring Oklahoma in an effort to kill a Republican-backed redistricting plan. In 2011, Wisconsin Democrats left the state, ignoring orders to return to the statehouse for a vote on an anti-union bill. In both of those cases, lawmakers evaded state police, but they didn’t have the backing of a militia, nor were they fleeing a vote on the future of the planet.
Correction, June 25, 2019: This post originally misstated the location of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. It is in Oregon, not Idaho.