Oregon Republicans Are On The Lam Over A Climate Bill

Republican state Senators in Oregon have refused to show up for work since Thursday. That same day, Democratic Gov. Kate Brown authorized state police to track down and return Republicans to the state Capitol in Salem.

The sticking point is a massive policy that could impact every Oregonian and dictate how Oregon fights climate change for decades to come.

State Sen. Tim Knopp, who represents Bend, Or., spoke with NPR's Morning Edition Monday from an undisclosed location in the state of Idaho. "We are in a protest," he said.

"House Bill 2020 institutes a carbon tax and the result of that is a massive gas tax increase of about 22 cents a gallon," he said, adding that natural gas prices will also rise. "It makes us uncompetitive in manufacturing jobs and we will lose thousands of manufacturing jobs."

As of Monday, there was still no compromise though Oregon lawmakers began communicating again Saturday. Republican Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. said he had a "very long" phone conversation with Democrat Senate President Peter Courtney. Baertschiger declined to describe the details of the talk.

"I don't want to do anything to disrupt the conversations," he said. He reiterated his insistence that the cap-and-trade bill should be referred directly to the ballot for voters to have their say.

"That's in the talks right now," he said. "Where that goes I have no idea."

It's not known to the public where the Senate Republicans are, but there has been speculation in the Capitol about lawmakers hiding out in Montana, Washington and Idaho.

Eric Parker, with the militia group Real Three Percenters of Idaho, told OPB that he has been in contact with some Senate Republicans in Idaho.

When asked about rumors that right-wing militia members had assisted Republican senators who are out of state, Baertschiger said he didn't think there was "any validity" to them. "The militia's the militia," he said. "I have a lot of those people in my district. I haven't talked to them."

Oregon State Police say the agency has been in contact with several Republican senators but has not disclosed any details.

A day before the walkout, Republican Sen. Brian Boquist responded angrily to the idea of Gov. Brown and Senate President Courtney using state troopers to force Republicans back to the Capitol.

"If you don't think these boots are for walking, you're flat wrong, Mr. President. And you send the state police to get me? Hell's coming to visit you personally," Boquist said.

In an interview with OPB, Boquist said that if state troopers come for him, they should be armed.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, from Portland, and Senate President Peter Courtney condemned Boquist's comments Friday.

"We strongly condemn the comments made this week in the Oregon State Capitol by Sen. Brian Boquist threatening lawmakers and Oregon State Police troopers," the statement reads. "Law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day in the name of protecting Oregonians and should never be subject to these kinds of threats, let alone from a public official."

"His comments have created fear among employees in our workplace. We will always defend free speech and welcome frank policy discussions, but threats like these are unacceptable."

Oregon Public Broadcasting's Meerah Powell contributed to this report.

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