WILD WEST: Bizarre Week in Oregon Overshadowed by Iran Tension, Democratic Primary

Oregon State Capitol Building in Salem, Oregon.

A wild week in the state of Oregon has barely been covered by national media, as attention has been focused on increased tension with Iran, and the shaping of the Democratic Party primary field.

But the events that transpired last week in the Beaver State are straight out of a Hollywood script, with lawmakers dodging a vote, the governor sending the state police after them, and a militia group threatening to storm the state Capitol.

The story begins with HB 2020, a bill that would set up a “cap-and-trade” system to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The cap on emissions would rise over time, allowing less emissions, and companies would be forced to buy and sell allowances (the “trade” in “cap-and-trade”) on emissions. California passed a similar bill in 2016.

Republican State Senators, far outmanned in the Senate, are unwilling to capitulate on the bill. If they show up for the vote, they will surely lose and HB 2020 will pass, and subsequently become law. So they decided to use another tactic, fleeing the state to deprive the Oregon Senate of the 20 members it needs for a quorum to hold vote.

Thursday, Democratic Gov. Kate Brown sent the state police to round them up and bring them back to the Capitol to hold the vote.

The legislative session ends on June 30, at which point unresolved legislative issues die. Brown said she will open a special session on July 2 if Republicans do not return for the vote. Republicans have no such plans, and remain in hiding. They want Democrats to put the bill up for a public referendum according to Sen. Herman Baertschiger, Jr., who spoke to The Wall Street Journal by phone from out-of-state.

Meanwhile, right-wing militia groups appear to have had enough lawmaking altogether.

The Oregon Three Percenters, who participated in the armed takeover of a wildlife refuge in 2016, was one of many groups to support the Republican legislators’ defiance. Apparently this, along with support for the legislators by other right-wing groups, was unsettling to law enforcement. The State Capitol was closed Saturday “due to a possible militia threat,” according to a spokesman for Senate President Peter Courtney.

The Oregon State Police said they were “monitoring information throughout the day that indicates the safety of legislators, staff and citizen visitors could be compromised if certain threatened behaviors were realized.”

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