The 11 Senate Republicans and Sen. Brian Boquist (I-Dallas) didn't show up for today's scheduled weekly floor session of the Oregon Legislature.
By skipping today's gathering, the senators flexed a muscle that allowed them to shut down the 2019 and 2020 sessions. Without a quorum—at least 20 of the 30 senators—the Senate cannot advance bills or carry on routine business. This early in the session, the consequences are relatively minor, but the GOP is signaling that its members could once again derail the agenda of the Democratic supermajority.
The senators explained their reasons for the mini-walkout in a letter to Gov. Kate Brown, leading off by blasting Brown for not more aggressively reopening schools for in-person instruction.
Here's what the Republicans wrote:
"We have previously called for you to immediately reopen schools because the science says it's safe," the Republicans wrote.
They then went on to outline other grievances. Nearly all of them related tothe governor's COVID-19 executive orders that have restricted business and social life in Oregon in order to keep case counts low. The state's restaurant industry, which faced some of the nation's tightest pandemic restrictions, was particularly hard hit. Those restrictions were also some of the most successful, measured by lower hospitalizations and deaths.
"Despite declining case counts, today you extended your emergency declaration, squeezing Oregonians even more. The Legislature cannot do its work to help Oregonians recover when people cannot go back to work because of orders requiring small businesses to stay closed. We ask that you immediately speed up economic reopening to give Oregonians a fighting chance of recovery.
"You have shown interest in helping low-income communities, communities of color, and underserved Oregonians. These populations have been disproportionately impacted by economic lockdowns. The best way to help them is to give them their jobs back and reopen small businesses.
"Our previous efforts to bring these issues to your attention have gone unacknowledged. Thus, we are protesting today's floor session. In this show of solidarity with Oregonians who are being failed by the current direction of your policies, we hope this action conveys the importance of these issues."
Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego) blasted the walkout.
"This must stop," Wagner said in a statement. "Oregonians will hold Senate Republicans accountable and responsible for walking off the job. There will be consequences for their breach of the public trust. We will advance new rules and laws that will deter future walkouts and provide accountability for all elected officials who refuse to show up for Oregonians."
Clarification: Sen. Boquist asked for and received an excused absence prior to Thursday's floor session. Since there are 18 Democrats and 11 Republicans, however, his absence or presence would not have impacted the quorum calculation.