SALEM, Ore. — Frustration from rural Republicans in the Oregon Senate boiled over Wednesday during an emotional debate before the chamber passed a bill banning coyote-killing contests.
Sen. Fred Girod, a Republican from the agricultural town of Stayton, said it was an anti-hunting measure that ignored the threat coyotes pose to livestock.
But Sen. Michael Dembrow, a Democrat from Portland who sponsored the bill, pointed out that it does not prohibit hunting or killing coyotes to prevent livestock depredations.
He emphasized that it's aimed only at stopping the killing contests.
The bill passed 17-12, mostly along party lines. It now goes to the House for consideration.
Sen. Cliff Bentz, a Republican whose district includes Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which was taken over in 2016 by right-wing militants, said passage of the bill would not go over well with his constituents who supported the takeover that resulted in the death of one militant.
Bentz said many people in his district feel powerless. He voted against the bill "to send a signal that we are listening, that we do hear the people in Harney County."
Republicans are in the minority in the state Senate and House. As the legislative session heads to a close in late June, they have increasingly believed supermajority Democrats are running roughshod over them and their constituents.
The high desert and mountains of eastern and central Oregon are predominantly Republican while cities such as Portland and Eugene are heavily Democratic.
In January, when the bill was introduced, the Humane Society of the United States showed a video taken during a contest showing men dragging dozens of dead coyotes from pickup trucks and dumping them onto snowy ground.
Some ranchers say such contests help protect their herds from being killed by coyotes, a contention disputed by some wildlife experts.
Sen. Dallas Heard, a Republican from the former timber town of Roseburg, pleaded with Democrats to vote down the measure.
"This is an assault on us. We don't want this. Please don't do this to us," Heard said. "I am so sick and tired of national politics tearing us apart, and it has bled into our state politics."
Sen. Kim Thatcher, a Republican from Keizer on the outskirts of Salem, broke down in tears as she tried to explain why she was the only Republican to vote for the bill.
She said she knew it would pass and had worked to make it more palatable to people in rural areas.
She said language had been removed saying the contests were for entertainment and a provision was dropped making the killing of coyotes in contests a misdemeanor.
Clearly agitated, Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr., who represents the Grants Pass area, said he wouldn't tell his Senate colleagues from Portland what to do about homeless people defecating on sidewalks.
When Senate President Peter Courtney, a Salem Democrat, asked Baertschiger to tone down his remarks, he claimed his right to free speech was being violated.
"The fact that the majority party, primarily from urban areas, cares so deeply about controlling coyotes, a predator that is destructive to the livelihood of rural Oregonians is unbelievable," the GOP leader said in a statement later.