The Republican boycott of the Oregon Senate continued for a third straight day Thursday, with little sign of progress from either side.
As they have since Tuesday, Republican senators made themselves scarce in the Capitol, denying Democrats the 20-person quorum needed to conduct business in the Senate. Meanwhile, Democrats sought to make political hay of the boycott, accusing the opposing party of "hiding" while they were ready to pass a $2 billion tax package aimed at K-12 schools.
A typical tweet from House Democrats: "What's more elusive at the Oregon Capitol: [Senate Republicans] or Bigfoot? Time to come out of hiding and vote for the #studentsuccessact."
Republicans responded that they were merely trying to make their voices heard.
The boycott began as a way for the Republican Party to slow down the inevitable-seeming passage of the schools tax, which the party argued was being pushed through without enough Republican input. It has since become a battleground for the larger dynamics of the Legislature, where Democrats hold supermajorities in both chambers.
Demands from Republicans in recent days have strayed far beyond the tax package to fold in other high-profile bills they would like to see killed or modified, gun controls and a cap-and-trade proposal among them. Republicans are also calling for reforms to the state pension fund — something Democratic leaders have already been working on and planned to propose on Friday.
“We don’t want to stop the legislative process. However, the Republicans do represent rural Oregon and these policies will devastate our districts,” Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, said in a statement Thursday. “Denying a quorum is the only tool to bring the Democrats to the table.”
Two Republican lawmakers are needed to achieve a quorum, but only one, Sen. Tim Knopp from Bend, has had an extended presence in the building this week.
As he had for the last three days, Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, convened the Senate Thursday morning with no expectation he’d have enough members to proceed. Even so, Courtney went through the motions, sending out Senate staff to stalk the halls looking for absent members.
Courtney recessed the chamber until 2:30 p.m., when the same process repeated itself. The Senate president then announced he’d be requiring all senators to be present on a Friday for the first time this legislative session.
“I’d hoped to delay Friday sessions for as long as I could,” Courtney said. “But we’re starting to fall really behind on our workload and the work we gotta do here. So tomorrow, even though we’re moving into that wonderful Mother’s Day weekend, I’m going to have to ask you, would you please come to be here at 11 o’clock tomorrow morning?”
Acknowledging there was no certainty Republicans would show up, he added: “We’ll just see what happens.”
Though Republicans might not be on hand to watch it, they’re likely to get a better idea Friday of how Democrats want to address a key GOP issue: tackling the state’s $27 billion public pension debt.
Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, plan to present their plan for helping stabilize the costs of the Public Employees Retirement System at a noon meeting.
Two major parts of the plan include requiring public employees to help cover part of the costs of paying down the PERS debt and stretching out the period of time for paying it off, according to sources.
OPB’s Jeff Mapes contributed to this report.