Gestures, while rarely accomplishing anything substantive, are usually fun to watch. They may also go a long way, much like music, to soothe a savage breast. Eleven Senate Republicans and Independent Sen. Brian Boquist surprised Senate President Peter Courtney and the majority party by absenting themselves from Thursday's morning floor session. Because the sole order of business was the introduction of new bills, little damage resulted from the denial of quorum.
Reaction was immediate, fierce, and somewhat comical. The Oregonian commiserated with the Democrat majority, expressing overwrought worry about the ability of the legislature to function. "Their walkout so early in the session and without substantive matters up for floor votes raises questions about how much the Legislature will be able to achieve" throughout the session. The article went on to cite a few of the bills proposed by Democrats to address the issues surrounding attendance and quorum. OPB was at least a tad more level-headed, characterizing the incident as a mere "boycott".
On the other hand, Marion County Republican Rep. Bill Post went to Facebook to point out that "Senate Republicans did not 'walk out' or anything like that. They just weren't available for the Senate floor today." He posted an image of the letter written by Sen. Tim Knopp (Dist. 27 – Bend) that indicated that Republican senators showed up for their scheduled committee meetings.
The senators, despite the apparent surprise to their Democrat colleagues, left no question as to the reason for the protest. They delivered a letter of justification to the governor and published it for all to read:
February 25, 2021
Governor Kate Brown
900 Court Street NE
Salem, OR 97301
We have previously called for you to immediately reopen schools because the science says it's safe. In 2011, the Legislature gave you the powers of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. You have failed to use that authority to bring forward a meaningful plan and pressure school districts to reopen. According to the Legislative Revenue Office, you have received over $600 million in unexpected money for schools from the federal government.
We request that you immediately reopen schools for full in-person instruction with proper public health measures.
Oregon is the 3rd worst in vaccinating seniors in the country. We find this unacceptable. This population is at a disproportionate risk of dying from COVID-19. This is a matter of life and death. We have previously called for you to direct vaccinations in the most equitable way possible.
As policymakers, one of the most important goals of this session is helping Oregonians recover from your strict economic lock down orders. Your own state economists have shown that Oregon’s economic recovery lags behind the rest of the county. Our unemployment rate is well above the national median.
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 under served Oregonians. These populations have been disproportionately impacted by economic lock downs. 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.
Oregonians are counting on you.
All eleven Republicans signed the letter and refused to grace the floor of the Senate. Sen. Boquist joined in the protest. He has been an unrelenting critic of the governor's policies related to the Wuhan virus and continued state of emergency. Sen. Knopp, specifically touted in the Oregonian article due to his reluctance to participate in previous walkouts, brought elevated scrutiny on the protest by his response to Democrat criticism leveled at them. "They call it a 'schedule' when they don't show up to work, while calling it a 'walkout' when we protest for better policy. I am calling them out on their hypocrisy." He also noted that [emphasis in original] "All of the Senate Republicans, myself included, are working in committee today."
Republican reaction was uniformly positive. Rep. Post received more than 130 comments. The Oregonian article was shared on several individual and Republican group Facebook pages. Emotions ranged from relief that Republicans are "growing a spine" to glee over the Democrat consternation. But one final reminder: It is still a long time until June; as Rep. Post wryly noted, not one bill has moved yet.