Oregon Lawmakers Cancel Saturday Session Due To Potential Statehouse Threat

By Meerah Powell (OPB) and Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
Portland, Ore. June 22, 2019 7:47 p.m.

It appears Oregon lawmakers began communicating again Saturday after Republican senators refused to show up at the Oregon Legislature late this week and dialogue stalled out Friday amid a battle over a sweeping cap-and-trade climate bill.

Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, said he had a “very long” phone conversation with Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem. Baertschiger declined to describe the talk.


“I don’t want to do anything to disrupt the conversations,” he said.

Related: Oregon Senate Standoff Continues: Could A Few Words Make A Difference?

Baertschiger confirmed his party would not be in attendance for a floor session scheduled Sunday morning, and he reiterated his insistence that the cap-and-trade bill should be referred directly to the ballot.

“That’s in the talks right now,” he said. “Where that goes I have no idea.”

Oregon lawmakers scrapped a scheduled Saturday session due to potential threats after GOP activists and militia members planned to rally at the Capitol.

"The State Police Superintendent just informed the Senate President of a credible threat from militia groups coming to the Capitol tomorrow," read a message from Senate leadership to lawmakers Friday night.

"The Superintendent strongly recommends that no one come to the Capitol."

State police have declined to elaborate on the nature of the threats, but lawmakers were expected to be briefed on specifics Saturday.

“We have been monitoring information throughout the day that indicates the safety of legislators, staff and citizen visitors could be compromised if certain threatened behaviors were realized,” said Oregon State Police Capt. Timothy Fox.

Kevin Hoar, communications director with Oregon Republican Party, said the party condemns any "legitimate, authentic threats."


“We think they should be investigated. Whoever made them should be prosecuted and given the fullest extent of penalty under the law,” Hoar said.

“We are concerned that perhaps the ability of some legitimate, peaceful voters who want to come and make their voices heard with what’s going on in the Legislature right now, and particularly with House Bill 2020, and activity that in fact the Capitol is designed for is not getting to happen,” Hoar said.

It's not known where the Senate Republicans are, but there has been speculation in the Capitol about lawmakers being in Montana, Washington and Idaho.

Eric Parker, with the militia group Real Three Percenters of Idaho, told OPB that he has been in contact with some Senate Republicans that are in Idaho.

When asked about rumors that right-wing militia members had assisted Republican senators who are out of state, Baertschiger said he didn’t think there was “any validity” to them. “The militia’s the militia,” he said. “I have a lot of those people in my district. I haven’t talked to them.”

Oregon State Police say the agency has been in contact with several Republican senators but has not disclosed any details.

This all comes during an ongoing Senate Republican walkout in order to prevent a vote on House Bill 2020, a cap-and-trade climate bill. Gov. Kate Brown has authorized Oregon State Police to bring Republicans back to the statehouse.

Related: 'OPB Politics Now': What Would Cap And Trade Really Mean For Oregon?

A day before the walkout, Republican Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, responded angrily to the idea of Brown and Courtney using state troopers to force Republicans back to the Capitol.

“If you don’t think these boots are for walking, you’re flat wrong, Mr. President. And you send the state police to get me? Hell’s coming to visit you personally,” Boquist said.

In an interview with OPB, Boquist said that if state troopers come for him, they should be armed.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and Senate President Peter Courtney condemned Boquist's comments Friday.

“We strongly condemn the comments made this week in the Oregon State Capitol by Sen. Brian Boquist threatening lawmakers and Oregon State Police troopers,” the statement reads. “Law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day in the name of protecting Oregonians and should never be subject to these kinds of threats, let alone from a public official.

“His comments have created fear among employees in our workplace. We will always defend free speech and welcome frank policy discussions, but threats like these are unacceptable.”

The Senate plans to reconvene Sunday at 10 a.m.