SALEM, Ore. — Republicans in the Oregon Senate did not show up to the Capitol building for votes on Thursday, preventing the chamber from gaining a quorum to proceed on legislative business.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reported just after noon on Thursday that all 11 Senate Republicans were absent from the chamber, along with newly-Independent Senator Brian Boquist. Oregon's constitution requires that at least two-thirds of each chamber be present in order to conduct business.
A statement from Senate Republicans said that they were "standing in solidarity" with Oregonians suffering amid the pandemic by "staging a protest and invoking First Amendment rights."
The lawmakers demanded that Democratic leaders refocus their priorities in the legislative session by addressing several topics first — reopening schools immediately, distributing vaccines equitably, and helping struggling Oregonians to recover.
“Throughout the pandemic, the Legislature has abdicated too much responsibility to the Governor," said Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod. "We cannot sit by and watch the Governor fail to deliver on the biggest issues facing Oregonians today. It's time to take some of the responsibility and get to work on the issues that matter most to Oregonians. We are demanding legislation aimed at school reopenings, vaccine distribution, economic recovery, and government accountability be moved to the top of the priority list.”
Though Governor Brown gave school districts the go-ahead to reopen in spite of coronavirus metrics at the end of last year, many districts have approached reopening cautiously. Girod pointed to Republican-sponsored bills that would empower private and public charter schools, and use the state's budget authority to force school districts to reopen.
“The Governor has completely failed Oregon families and students,” Sen. Girod said. “She first promised that schools would reopen on February 15. She failed to put our kids first. Now she is moving the goalposts to the spring. Parents and kids no longer have any trust in her empty promises. We need truly bold action. Gov. Brown is the Superintendent of Public Instruction. She needs to start acting like it and demand teachers unions immediately send their members back into the classroom.”
Girod also took shots at Governor Brown's decision to vaccinate educators before seniors, and sending a higher portion of vaccines to the highly-populated Portland metro area over rural counties.
Above all, Republicans cited Brown's continued coronavirus measures, the impact on Oregon's job market and damage to small businesses.
“Our main concern this session ought to be helping Oregonians recovery from the pandemic and its economic devastation,” Senate Republican Leader, Fred Girod said. “Yet Democrats are intent on taxing COVID relief money and increasing the cost of living for Oregonians. I urge Legislative leaders to pass Senate Republican bills aimed at giving working Oregonians relief and getting them back to work."
Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner blasted the Republican walk-out in a statement — saying that the Republican lawmakers had "abdicated" their oath of office by continuing to accept pay and benefits while halting the legislature.
"We have tremendously important work this session. Lives are at stake as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet the Senate Republicans continue their anti-democratic walkout tactics," Wagner said. “Senate Republicans walked out in 2019, again in 2020, and now they are walking out on 2021. Oregonians are exhausted by Senate Republicans’ irresponsible actions against democracy. The Senate Republicans are denying their constituents the representation they deserve to have in the Senate."
Republican lawmakers walked out twice in the 2019 session — first in protest of a bill that instituted a new tax on corporate activity in order to fund schools, then to kill a cap-and-trade climate bill. In 2020, when a new version of the cap-and-trade bill emerged, Republicans again walked off, resulting in the contentious session ending early.
Governor Kate Brown's deputy communications director, Charles Boyle, released the following statement in response to the walk-out:
Oregonians face unprecedented challenges––from a worldwide pandemic, to historic wildfires and a severe winter weather event. These challenges demand all of our elected officials to set aside their differences and work together to move Oregon forward. With each crisis, the Governor has declared a state of emergency to make sure families have access to all available state and federal resources that can help.
Let’s be clear: Governor Brown is using all available tools and resources to respond to the crises facing Oregonians. This includes addressing the health and economic needs of Oregon families as a result of the pandemic, as well as using all available resources to safely return Oregon students to the classroom. Oregon has vaccinated hundreds of thousands of Oregonians, including our most vulnerable seniors.
Governor Brown is going to keep going to work every day for Oregonians. She expects all elected officials to do the same.