SALEM, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday authorized Oregon State Police to round up GOP senators who have staged a walkout in protest of the cap-and-trade energy conservation bill that pushes Oregonians to lower pollution by ditching fossil fuel engines.
Earlier this week, Republicans threatened to walk out to prevent a vote on the bill. They followed through with that threat on Thursday with some senators even leaving the state.
Brown responded by following through on her own threat to use Oregon State Police to find GOP senators and bring them back to the Capitol so the Senate will have quorum and can move forward with the legislation.
KGW political analyst Len Bergstein broke down the political standoff and what Oregonians should expect next:
How rare is the walkout and subsequent request for state police to bring lawmakers back to Salem?
It’s happened before but it is very rare. Once, the Republicans had to send some police out to get the Democrats back in a while back. One time, Governor [Ted] Kulongoski had to send some troopers to an OSU Beavers baseball game to try and get some Republican legislators back in.
What are the stakes?
The stakes are really huge... We’ve been debating this for about 10 years as to what role Oregon should have in terms of leading to a carbon-reduced future. Republicans think that it’s too costly, affects people in different parts of the state in different ways, and doesn’t deliver enough results. Democrats believe it is the most important issue of our lifetime. So, each group has got to try and get not only a policy solution that they like, but also a political solution, because they think their base has sent them there to fight to the bitter end.
So, what happens next?
The governor will do what the governor said, and she’s going to demonstrate leadership. I think the state police will bring back Republicans and they will have to sit on the floor. I don’t think there will be anything like a shootout or perp walks or anything like that. I think the state police are very professional. They’ve been in contact with Republicans, they know where they are. The ones that are in state, they’ll bring them in.
And there are some limits on the kind of games that can be played here. The Republicans, while they want to show the Democrats are weak and feckless even with very big majorities, they don’t want to overplay their hand so that in fact they look like they are way outside the boundaries of modern politics and they lose exactly those seats that they need to win. So, for example, Salem, a Senate seat will be up. [Senator Tim] Knopp’s seat in Bend. Those seats are going to be up for grabs next election, and the Republicans can’t look like they are way out of line on this even though they want to embarrass the Democrats. They want to embarrass the Democrats, but they don’t want to trash democracy, and they don’t want to turn Oregon into a laughing stock, kind of like the Tonya Harding years. We don’t want that to happen.
Does cap and trade ultimately pass?
I think so in some form. There’s this question, I think your viewers will watch while they trade over whether or not this emergency clause, which has to do with the politics of it more than the substance of it, but I have a feeling that after a decade Oregon is ready to pass cap and trade and it will pass this session.
Does this signal a change in Oregon politics?
I think you’re exactly right to raise that issue. Oregonians have prided themselves on the kind of politics that the rest of the country laughs at a little bit. We like to compromise, we like to find common ground. The toxic politics of the rest of the nation are not Oregon politics. And yet, this may be in fact be kind of a marker in time of when Oregon politics tipped over a little bit into that more toxic nature that goes on in the rest of the country.
Under the proposed cap-and-trade bill, Oregon would put an overall limit on greenhouse gas emissions and auction off pollution "allowances" for each ton of carbon industries plan to emit. The legislation would lower that cap over time to encourage businesses to move away from fossil fuels: The state would reduce emissions to 45% below 1990 levels by 2035, and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
Democrats say the measure is an efficient way to lower emissions while investing in low-income and rural communities' ability to adapt to climate change. It has the support of environmental groups, farmworkers and some trade unions.
Those opposed to the cap-and-trade plan say it would exacerbate a growing divide between the liberal, urban parts of the state and the rural areas, which tend to be more conservative. The plan would increase the cost of fuel, damaging small business, truckers and the logging industry, which is already in freefall due to federal environmental protections, they say.