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Oregon police have spent five days, to no avail, searching for the 11 Republican state senators who fled the capital rather than vote on climate change legislation.
In the meantime, the outlaw lawmakers have gained some fans: Right-wing militias have vowed to protect them, and a "militia threat" forced the Senate to remain closed Saturday, according to Carol Currie, spokeswoman for Senate President Peter Courtney.
The GoFundMe set up for the senators to help them pay fines over their absence has also nearly reached its goal of $49,500.
Democratic Gov. Kate Brown ordered the state police to round up the absent GOP lawmakers after they skipped out on a Thursday vote to pass a bill designed to reduce climate-heating greenhouse gas emissions. Without quorum, Democrats couldn’t pass the legislation, and the Republicans would rather voters decide in a statewide referendum.
The Republican senators reportedly fled to Idaho, where they’re evading the Oregon cops. One said he’d fight police if they try to bring him back to the capitol in Salem.
"Send bachelors and come heavily armed," Sen. Brian Boquist told local media.
“I don't think you're going to see us anytime soon,” state Sen. Herman Baertschinger, the Senate Minority Leader, told local outlet KATU2 over the weekend.
Since Brown sicced the cops on the lawmakers, more than one armed, right-wing group has vowed to come to their defense — and the state’s Republican party hasn’t exactly declined.
(Note: The photo in the tweet isn’t a militia but a group of loggers protesting the climate bill peacefully last week.)
The Oregon branch of the Three Percenters has promised to provide security and armed escorts for the GOP lawmakers. The group claims to combat what they see as constitutional overreach by the government. Back in 2016, members showed up to help Ammon Bundy with his occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where they participated in the monthlong standoff purportedly about whether states or the federal government should oversee public lands.
Another armed right-wing group, the Oathkeepers, threatened violence against Gov. Brown on Thursday. “Gov. Brown, you want a civil war, because this is how you get a civil war,” the group posted to its public Facebook page.
In addition to backing from state militias, the senators have also received financial support. They’ve raised over $41,000 on a GoFundMe set up to help them pay the $500 fine that Democrats have levied against them for every day they don’t show up to work.
The bill that the Republicans refused to vote on aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 80% by 2050 relative from 1990s levels. The legislation looked poised to sail through the state’s Democrat-controlled Senate last week, until the Republicans walked out.
The conservatives believe the bill will cost the state jobs and the left sees it as ultimately insufficient to address the scale of the climate crisis. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, however, has said that to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, the world needs to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
But staging a walkout to avoid a contentious vote isn’t a novel technique: Democrats at the federal level have done it, and Republicans in Oregon did it just last month. (But they also struck a deal that included an agreement not to walk out again.)
Asked whether the Senate would be in session on Monday, Currie told VICE News via email, “All I can tell you is that the Senate will have its regularly scheduled 11 a.m. floor session at 10 this morning, and we’ll see then about whether or not we have quorum.”
Cover image: In this Oct. 17, 2018 file photo, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown smiles during an interview in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)