Oregon Capitol Closed After Threats From Militia Groups

June 23, 2019 in News by Slad

source: Wall Street Journal
by Ian Lovett

Move comes while partisan showdown over environmental legislation brings state Senate to a standstill

The state Capitol in Salem, Ore., was closed after threats were made by militia groups, authorities said.

SALEM, Ore.—Law-enforcement officials closed the state Capitol on Saturday, following threats from militia groups that were made while a partisan showdown has halted all activity in the Oregon Senate.

“The State Police Superintendent just informed the Senate president of a credible threat from militia groups coming to the Capitol tomorrow,” read a text sent out to senators on Friday that was shared with The Wall Street Journal. “The Superintendent strongly recommends that no one come to the Capitol.”

Oregon State Police said Saturday they were monitoring threats and had closed the Capitol entirely.

“The safety of legislators, staff and citizen visitors could be compromised if certain threatened behaviors were realized,” said Tim Fox, a captain with the Oregon state police.

He didn’t elaborate on the nature of the threats, which came as Republicans remained on the run outside the state, in an effort to block a bill that would limit greenhouse-gas emissions in Oregon.

The bill, HB 2020, would make Oregon the second state in the country to set up a cap-and-trade system for all sectors of the economy. California was the first, after passing a similar bill in 2016.

Democrats had scheduled a vote on the bill Thursday, but all 11 Republican senators fled the state. At least 20 senators must be present for a quorum, so Democrats need at least two Republicans present to hold a vote.

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday deployed state police to search for the missing senators and bring them back to Salem for the vote.

The legislative session will end June 30, at which time all bills that haven’t been voted on will die. The governor said she is prepared to call a special session, to start July 2, if the Republicans don’t return this month.

Republicans, meanwhile, say they won’t come back to the state unless the Democrats agree to major changes in the bill. They have argued that although there is a need for action on climate change, the bill in its current form would cripple manufacturing and other industries in the state.

“This bill needs to be referred to the voters,” because it would have such a profound impact on Oregon’s economy, said state Sen. Herman Baertschiger, Jr., the Republican senate leader, speaking by phone from outside the state.

An emergency provision of the bill allows it to take effect more quickly but prevents voters from putting it to a referendum.

“If we can get the Democrats to agree to that, that’s probably where we will wind up,” Mr. Baertschiger said.

Sen. Michael Dembrow, one of the Democratic architects of the bill, said manufacturers had already been given major exemptions under the bill and that Republicans were only stalling to kill the bill. Voters could still gather signatures for a ballot measure to repeal the bill, he said, but unlike with a referendum, work on it could proceed in the meantime.

He said the Democrats’ resolve had been strengthened by the Republicans’ flight from the state. “The last thing we can do is make this kind of behavior the norm, because then it’ll happen every session,” Mr. Dembrow said.

Capt. Fox of the state police declined to say which groups had made the threat.

On Thursday, the Three Percenters, a group that joined the armed takeover in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, said it would do whatever was necessary to keep the Republican senators safe. The Republicans said they wouldn’t accept the group’s help.

Rancor between the parties spilled onto social media Saturday, after the Capitol was closed.

On Twitter, the state GOP posted, “Oregon senate Democrats canceled their weekend session citing a fear that Republican voters may show up.”

Several Democratic senators responded to the tweet, including Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward.

“I have no fear of any voter who works to engage in civil discourse, regardless of party,” she wrote. “Militia who actively threaten legislators are completely different.”

Democrats said they were planning to return to the Senate floor Sunday, whether or not the Republicans had returned.

Write to Ian Lovett at Ian.Lovett@wsj.com