Sunday morning in an all-but-deserted downtown Salem heralded the start of a new week and a routine that’s become all too familiar in the state Senate as Republicans entered their fifth day of a walkout.
A small group of Senate staff joined the security guards who work around the clock in an otherwise empty Capitol. Democratic senators, many dressed in jeans and fleece jackets, ate pancakes before taking the floor.
There, they recited the Pledge of Allegiance, listened to a poem about toothpaste alluding to getting things done, sang happy birthday to a clerk and listened as a roll call confirmed what was obvious as soon as they came in: Nine Republican senators and one independent had skipped another day, leaving the Senate unable to do work without a required quorum of 20 of its 30 members.
Republicans have insisted they’re protesting a failure to comply with a state law that requires bill summaries to be written at about an eighth-grade reading level. Democrats say they’re trying to prevent votes on bills protecting abortion rights and transgender health care and limiting guns.
Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, allowed during a phone call on Sunday that Republicans are also protesting about 20 different bills they consider “hyperpartisan,” including high-profile measures on abortion, guns and transgender health care. If Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, chooses to set aside those bills – as Democrats did in response to previous Republican walkouts over carbon cap legislation in 2019 and 2020 – and orders staff to write new summaries in simpler language for other measures, Republicans will return, Knopp said.
“He could say we’re setting aside these partisan bills for the sake of housing and for the sake of the issues that Oregonians want us to work on,” he said. “But that is clearly not the path that they’ve chosen. They’ve chosen to try to force unlawful bills, unconstitutional bills across the floor, and we are not going to allow that to happen.”
Wagner and Knopp haven’t spoken for about five weeks, Knopp said. Their prior meetings were “completely and utterly worthless” and occurred just so Wagner could claim they had met and everything was fine, he said.
Democratic senators intend to return to the floor every day until they’re able to resume passing bills. Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton, told the Capital Chronicle she’s putting off scheduling a root canal and other senators are sacrificing other needs to ensure they’re available for work.
Democrats won’t sacrifice their priorities, Lieber said. She said Republicans have known since the beginning of the session that they’d introduce legislation on abortion, guns and transgender rights.
“Democrats are committed to doing their jobs and to coming in as often as we need to in order to accomplish that,” she said. “We’ve got some gamesmanship that’s happening with the Republicans and we’re willing to be here and work. Where are they? Seriously, where are they?”
Only one Republican, Sen. Dick Anderson of Lincoln City, has gone to the Senate every day since the walkout began. Anderson declined to say whether he would join Republican colleagues in protesting.
“We’re all here together in spirit,” he said as he walked away.
Knopp said Anderson supports the walkout, along with every other Republican senator and Independent Sen. Brian Boquist of Dallas.
“We are 13 strong,” he said. “I call it Oregon’s lucky number.”
Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, joined Anderson on the floor. Four senators now have five unexcused absences, halfway to the 10 that would make them ineligible for re-election under a constitutional amendment approved by voters last year in response to prior walkouts.
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