As It Happens

Oregon Republicans skip town to avoid voting on Democratic climate bill

Oregon state senator Tim Knopp is on the run from the law. He's one of 11 Republicans who have been absent from the state legislature since last week — but he's calling the unusual absence a "civil, peaceful protest."

Republican lawmakers are avoiding a vote on a cap-and-trade system to curb carbon emissions

Protesters flood the steps of the Oregon State Capitol Tuesday, June 25, 2019, to push back against a Republican walkout over a climate change bill. (AP Photo/Sarah Zimmerman)
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Transcript

Oregon state senator Tim Knopp is on the run from the law. He's one of 11 Republicans who have been absent from the state legislature since last week.

They're avoiding a vote on a bill that would make Oregon the second state to use a cap-and-trade system to put a price on carbon emissions.

The Democrats hold the majority, but they need a few Republicans to join them in order to make quorum. 

Now Oregon's governor Kate Brown has put out an all-points-bulletin for Oregon's state troopers to bring the Republicans back to work, if they can find them.

Knopp spoke to As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner from what he describes as a cabin, on a lake, across state lines, in Idaho.

Senator Knopp, if we can find you, how worried are you that an Oregon state trooper might soon be banging on your door?

Well, I'm not too concerned at my present location. The state police have been very persistent. I've talked to Superintendent Travis Hampton of the Oregon State Police and he's called twice and asked for — I say firmly, persistently and politely — for my return to Oregon. 

Up until this point, I have denied that request to return and I did that in a polite way as well.

Idaho state police said this is a civil matter between Oregon residents and they're not going to participate in apprehending or rounding up legislators and taking them back to Oregon. 

So, I think we are safe here.

You fled the legislature to try to prevent this climate change law from being passed. Why?

This carbon tax bill is a really significant change in Oregon's economy, taking us really from the cash economy to a carbon credit economy, in many ways, and it does really a few things that we think are damaging to our rural constituents, and part of the reason for us to deny the quorum and do this political protest is [that] it's really the last and only option that we had left.

So you say that you've engaged in this political protest. Do you think it's democratic? 

Well, actually, I think it's constitutional, absolutely. Because the [state] constitution says that you have to have 20 votes in the senate for a quorum.

And in doing so, it's up to the majority to make sure that the minority members feel like their voices are being heard and we didn't feel that. Not only were the voices not being heard from the minority and our constituents, but they weren't being respected either.

What message do you think it sends to voters that voters have decided they want to give one party a majority and then the other party decides, "Nah, we're not comfortable with that?" So what are you saying to voters with this action? 

Well, what we're saying to our constituents, because that's the people that we represent, is that we're representing them in the best way we know how, and doing everything we can to make sure their voices are heard.

We haven't broken any laws. This is a civil, peaceful protest.- Tim Knopp

There have been threats made, at least one, against the capital. There have been some militias saying they'll get involved in this showdown, if necessary. How worried are you about what's been unleashed by this action?

Well, first of all, I have said very clearly that comments or threats of violence or aggression have no place in this peaceful protest that we are having.

We have not asked for anyone's help … and we have not had any discussions with any other groups. So we are doing this as a caucus of 11 and we are committed to a very peaceful protest.

A TV reporter interviews self-employed logger Bridger Hasbrouck, of Dallas, Ore., outside the Oregon State House in Salem, Ore., on Thursday, June 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)

But how worried are you that it won't turn out that way?

I am optimistic that clearer heads will prevail. We've asked the rhetoric to be brought down on both sides.

But Senator, if you're willing to say no to the state police and to defy state police, doesn't that give license to others to do the same? 

No, I don't believe it does.

Why not?

Because we haven't broken any laws. This is a civil, peaceful protest.

So what's the plan now? You plan on staying away for the next five days, and then the bill dies?

Well, the governor just yesterday ... said that the bill is dead for this session. We're asking for clarification about what that actually means. They said they didn't have the votes for it, which means Democratic members are not willing to vote for it, which we've known all along. But we weren't sure whether they would be pressured into voting for it, even though they didn't want to. 

And so we are hoping for a negotiated settlement that can bring us back to the building to finish the work that we'd like to do with the capital.


Written by Alison Broverman. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A edited and condensed for clarity.

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