(Update: Adding video, more comments from Knopp, says it was 'one-day deal')
Knopp says Democrats 'afraid of people that don’t agree with their agenda'
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Republican lawmakers boycotted an Oregon Senate session Thursday morning, using a tactic they had employed in the past two years to assert their will by stopping work in the Democratic-led Legislature.
This time, it was over the state’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod said the Legislature “has abdicated too much responsibility” to Democratic Gov. Kate Brown. He demanded legislation aimed at school reopenings, vaccine distribution, economic recovery and government accountability.
Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner accused Senate Republicans of irresponsible actions against democracy. Oregon’s 2020 legislative session imploded after Republicans boycotted over a climate change measure. Republicans also conducted two walkouts in 2019.
Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, who remained on hand during some of the previous Republican walkouts, joined his party this time.
Knopp voiced his frustration with Democrats in an interview with NewsChannel 21.
"They have essentially schools mostly shut down," he said. "They have a lot of our small businesses shut down, and the governor had moved vaccines from the rural area into the metro area and left our seniors and many other people without the ability to get vaccinated.
"We are not happy about it. Our constituents are not happy about it. They let us know. And we protested that today. It was a one-day deal."
Knopp also told NewsChannel 21 the Democrats' press release on the matter (included at the end of this story) "is laughable and hypocritical. Democrats have missed 15 session days already this session. We agree, they should get back to work and open the State Capitol to the people we serve."
"They say they are afraid of COVID-19," Knopp continued. "I believe they are afraid of people that don’t agree with their agenda. It’s easier to pass their agenda when they lock out opposition to it."
Andrea Kraus, communications director for the Senate Majority Office, disputed Knopp's claims of Democratic no-shows.
"Democrats have attended sessions on the Senate floor whenever called upon," Kraus told NewsChannel 21. "They have not denied a quorum once (or 15 times), by walking out on the job – as the Republicans and Senator Boquist chose to do today."
Informed of her comment, Knopp said: "They just call it scheduling. If they were keeping a regular schedule like every other session, they have walked out 14 days. They didn’t show up for work. I know this because I’ve been in the building nearly every day, and they haven’t been."
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.
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.”
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.
Majority Leader Rob Wagner Statement
on Senate Republicans Walking Out on the Job
SALEM – Today the Oregon Senate Republicans and Senator Brian Boquist (I-Dallas) walked out on their responsibility to serve their constituents when they refused to show up to work for today’s floor session. Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego) released the following statement in response.
“Senate Republicans continue to sabotage Oregon’s democracy and undermine the will of voters. They have abdicated the oaths of office many of them took just weeks ago. They continue to accept pay, benefits and daily expenses from Oregon taxpayers all while completely obstructing the business before the Legislature – the people’s work.
“We have tremendously important work this session. Lives are at stake as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet the Senate Republicans continue their anti-democratic walkout tactics.”
“Senate Republicans walked out in 2019, again in 2020, and now they are walking out on 2021. Oregonians are exhausted by Senate Republicans’ irresponsible actions against democracy. The Senate Republicans are denying their constituents the representation they deserve to have in the Senate.
“This must stop. 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.”