SALEM (AP) — Republicans in the Oregon Senate boycotted Thursday’s session, using a tactic they have employed in the past two years to assert their will by stopping work in the Democratic-led Legislature — this time over the state’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod said the Legislature, where the GOP is a minority, “has abdicated too much responsibility” to Democratic Gov. Kate Brown. He said she must demand that teachers unions immediately send educators back into classrooms. He also demanded that the Legislature take a role in vaccine distribution and other aspects of the pandemic.
Senate President Peter Courtney said he didn’t see the boycott coming.
“I did not expect this. I was not notified of it,” the Democrat told the half-empty Senate chamber.
Eighteen senators were present, two short of a quorum. All the Republicans were absent, as was a former Republican who is now an Independent.
Courtney made a final effort to start the session: “I’m going to ask the Republicans to come to the floor and participate in floor sessions.” He waited a few beats. No one came.
“Very regrettable,” Courtney said before adjourning.
Last week, he recounted the travails Oregon has endured: ferocious wildfires, an ice storm that knocked out power and the pandemic. He thanked lawmakers, which included Republicans, for showing up.
“This is a team effort, and therefore we have to deal with each other in that way,” he said.
Oregon’s 2020 legislative session imploded after Republicans boycotted over a climate change measure. Republicans also did two walkouts in 2019 — to try to kill a different version of the climate bill and one on an education-funding tax.
Girod, in his statement, demanded legislation aimed at school reopenings. Brown has already made that a priority by getting teachers vaccinated ahead of seniors 65 and older. But Girod insisted that evidence suggests teachers don’t need to be vaccinated to reopen schools.
“That decision almost certainly cost lives,” Girod said, writing on behalf of Senate Republicans.
He also demanded bills on “vaccine distribution, economic recovery and government accountability.”
Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Brown, said the governor was using “all available tools and resources” to respond to the pandemic.
“Governor Brown is going to keep going to work every day for Oregonians. She expects all elected officials to do the same,” Boyle said.
Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner blasted the boycott as an attack on democracy.
“Senate Republicans continue to sabotage Oregon’s democracy and undermine the will of voters,” the Portland-area Democrat said in a statement. “Lives are at stake as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet the Senate Republicans continue their anti-democratic walkout tactics.”
Courtney said the Senate would now meet twice a week, on Wednesday and Thursdays, to advance bills coming out of committees.
Whether Republicans will appear is an open question.