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Oregon Republicans flee their state to derail Dems' climate bill

Oregon Republican lawmakers couldn't think of a way to defeat a bill to address the climate crisis -- so they fled the state.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown speaks at the state capital building in Salem, Oregon, Feb. 20, 2015. (Photo by Steve Dipaola/Reuters)
Oregon Governor Kate Brown speaks at the state capital building in Salem, Oregon, Feb. 20, 2015. 

Oregon is one of a handful of states in which Democrats control all of the levers of power. There's a Democratic governor working with sizable Democratic majorities in the state House and state Senate.

With this in mind, when Oregon policymakers decided to move forward with a fairly ambitious plan to address the climate crisis, Republican opponents didn't have many options. They did, however, have one unusual solution to their problem: GOP lawmakers could literally flee their own state.

And so they did.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown deployed the state police Thursday to try to round up Republican lawmakers who fled the Capitol in an attempt to block a vote on a landmark climate plan that would be the second of its kind in the nation.Minority Republicans want the cap-and-trade proposal aimed at dramatically lowering the state's greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to be sent to the voters for approval instead of instituted by lawmakers. Negotiations with Democrats fell apart late Wednesday prompting conservatives to pursue a walkout, said Kate Gillem, a spokeswoman for Senate Republicans said Thursday.Some members have even left the state to avoid a vote, Gillem said. State police don't have jurisdiction beyond state lines.

To hold a vote, the state Senate needs a quorum of 20 members in the 30-seat chamber. The Democratic majority has 18 members.

It's worth emphasizing that the Democratic proposal isn't exactly radical. If the law were to take effect, Oregon would have a cap-and-trade model, similar to the system approved by its neighbors in California, in which polluters would face a ceiling on carbon emissions. Those who wanted to go above that limit would need to trade credits with other companies.

This is, incidentally, a market-based approach that Republicans used to like before the party orthodoxy on climate science shifted dramatically to the right.

If the flee-the-state tactic sounds familiar, there's a reason for that. As longtime readers may recall, Wisconsin Democrats relied on the same strategy in 2011 in the hopes of derailing then-Gov. Scott Walker's (R) anti-union agenda.

And if you've been reading me a ridiculously long time, you might also recall a 2003 fight in Texas, when state Democratic lawmakers fled the state as a way of trying to defeat then-Rep. Tom DeLay's (R) re-redistricting scheme.

Inauspiciously for Oregon Republicans, both of those gambits ultimately failed.

The Oregonian had a good piece overnight on what might happen next, but as developments unfold, there's one dangerous element to keep an eye on: one state Senate Republican has reportedly threatened to shoot Oregon law enforcement personnel who try to bring him back to the capitol.

We've had political disputes in which lawmakers fled their state as a tactic of last resort, but a state lawmaker threatening to kill state troopers is new.

Watch this space.