Why It Matters
If the walkout were to persist, a wide range of bills, including on transportation, schools and homelessness, could end up as collateral casualties. But first comes the question of whether the absenteeism law motivates enough lawmakers to come back to the Capitol. How many will be willing to risk their futures?
“The voters were clear: Walking out on our democracy is not an option,” said Senator Kate Lieber, the Democratic Senate majority leader, referring to last year’s ballot measure.
Committee hearings so far have continued; only half the lawmakers on a panel are needed to reach a quorum in those proceedings.
In the last few years, Republicans have used walkouts to stall bills on taxes, climate legislation and abortion. During one of those earlier walkouts, the former Democratic governor, Kate Brown, sent state troopers to track down boycotting lawmakers but had no luck getting them to return, until Democratic leaders declared dead for the year a cap-and-trade climate proposal that the boycotting lawmakers had opposed. The state’s new governor, Tina Kotek, also a Democrat, has ruled out a haul-them-back-to-work strategy.
In a state where Democrats dominate the population centers in the West and Republicans thrive in the more rural areas of the South and East, Republicans have felt so powerless at times that some have explored a more permanent separation, with a long-shot proposal to absorb the eastern part of the state into Idaho.
It was not always this way. At the start of the century, Republicans controlled both legislative chambers. In 2001, Democrats in the State House used a walkout to protest the Republican majority’s redistricting plans. But that was before the rising progressive influence of places like Portland and Eugene.
More than two-thirds of voters approved of the ban on legislative absenteeism last year.
Democrats are hopeful that lawmakers will return to their work in the coming days. Some of the Republican lawmakers have yet to reach the 10-day mark and could return to the Capitol before they do. The legislature is supposed to approve a new state budget by the end of June.
A Republican lawsuit, if filed, would not be resolved in time for the current session, but it could help bring clarity for next year’s session — and determine who gets to run for re-election.