Gov. Tina Kotek says talks over Republican walkout have stalled

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB) and Lauren Dake (OPB)
May 31, 2023 8:04 p.m. Updated: May 31, 2023 9:14 p.m.

With both parties unwilling to budge on a bill tackling abortion and transgender care, the 2023 session appears stuck.

FILE: Gov. Tina Kotek addresses reporters to mark 100 days in office in April.

FILE: Gov. Tina Kotek addresses reporters to mark 100 days in office in April.

Dirk VanderHart / OPB

Talks aimed at ending an ongoing walkout in the Oregon Senate have broken down. Again.


Gov. Tina Kotek said Wednesday that after working in “good faith” with the leader of the boycotting Senate Republicans for the past week, the two sides have reached an impasse over the same bill that drove the walkout in the first place — a proposal to expand protections for abortions and transgender care.

“I’m very disappointed with where we are,” Kotek said in an interview. “We are at an impasse with one month left.”

The governor’s conclusion raises serious questions about whether or not the 2023 session is doomed. Talks between legislative leaders held earlier this month broke down, with conservative lawmakers insisting they wanted the abortion bill, House Bill 2002, dead, among other things. Democrats have been adamant that they will not touch the bill, which already passed the House.

“At the end of the day yesterday, [Senate Republican Leader Tim] Knopp was: ‘Well, we appreciate the effort, but if we don’t see 2002 amended or killed, we’re done talking,’” Kotek said. “And that’s where we are.”

The development comes exactly four weeks after Republicans began a walkout that brought the Senate to a screeching halt. Without 20 lawmakers present, the chamber cannot pass bills. Democrats hold only 17 of 30 Senate seats.

While such boycotts have been used by both parties over the years, Kotek believes this is the longest legislative walkout in Oregon’s history. The maneuver is also set to test the boundaries of a new voter-approved law that could end the political careers of absent lawmakers.

Kotek got involved in the Senate standoff early last week, after talks between Knopp and Senate President Rob Wagner proved fruitless. She met with Knopp, the Senate Republican leader, five times.

The governor told OPB she started with a two-prong approach: listening to Republican concerns, but also with a firm commitment to leave House Bill 2002 intact. From there, she says, she started building a list of bills Republicans viewed as priorities along with process changes the GOP hopes to see.

Knopp and other Republicans have been adamant this year that Democrats are using their majorities in both chambers to subvert appropriate legislative process, something Democrats say is laughable.

“They started off with a very long list of complaints, concerns, recommendations on how to change process on the Senate side,” Kotek said. “I went through that list with the presiding officers.”

Kotek did not cite specific bills she had talked about pushing toward passage alongside Republican lawmakers. Senate GOP members floated a list of dozens of priority bills at the session’s outset in January.

HB 2002, the measure at the heart of the walkout, aims to protect health care providers who give abortions and requires insurance to cover gender-affirming care for people who are transgender or nonbinary.


One of the sticking points for Republicans is that the bill allows for minors younger than the age of 15 to have an abortion without their parent’s consent. Data from 2021 suggest very few minors under the age of 15 have an abortion. In 2021, there were 14 such cases across the state.

“Let’s remember what’s happening in this situation for these young children who are pregnant,” Kotek said. “They have been abused, they have been raped, most often by a family member. These are very tragic situations. I’m not willing to say to a child, you can’t access health care because you’re not going to get parental consent.”

Knopp said the governor’s office gave him a six-minute warning before sending out a press release announcing the impasse.

“Yeah, that sounds bipartisan doesn’t it?” he said.

Knopp said Republicans have asked for a range of items in the negotiating process, adding they could be boiled down to wanting a “lawful, bipartisan and constitutional” session.

“They don’t want to follow Senate rules and they want to continue to move an extreme, partisan, unconstitutional agenda that removes the rights of parents to provide loving care for their children,” Knopp said of Democrats. “And we won’t stand by and be a speed bump on their way to having the government take over a parent’s rightful role to provide for their children.”

Republicans have repeatedly said they don’t believe Oregonians would support HB 2002 if they looked at the details.

“If this bill doesn’t pass, abortion is still legal in Oregon for all nine months for any reason, literally nothing changes,” Knopp said. “So the expansion (to abortion access) is the elimination of parental rights, that is the expansion of this bill.”

Senate Republicans have promised to return on June 25, the day before the session is scheduled to adjourn, to pass a new two-year state budget and other bipartisan bills.

The governor dismissed that proposal, which would effectively give Republicans veto power over remaining legislation.

“That work cannot get done on the last day of session,” the governor said, saying she’s handing the negotiations back to legislative leaders.

“I don’t want to have conversations just to have conversations,” Kotek said.

Whether or not lawmakers can sort out the standoff themselves is unclear. In recent days, some House Republicans have taken to talking with their Senate counterparts to encourage some sort of deal.

Rep. Kevin Mannix, R-Salem, has been impressing on Senate Republicans how many bills would wither on the legislative vines if the walkout continues.

“The good [legislation] outweighs the bad,” Mannix said Tuesday, noting that he adamantly opposed HB 2002 when it passed in the House.

And state Rep. Greg Smith, a Heppner Republican and one of the Legislature’s longest-tenured members, has been talking to leaders in both parties, he said, trying to find areas of common ground.

“Effectively both sides have jumped off a cliff,” Smith said. “They’re in free fall. So the trick is trying to determine how we create a soft landing.”