The 11 Republicans fled the state for nine days to deny Democrats the numbers needed to vote on a proposal that would be the second in the nation to cap and trade pollution credits among companies. The legislation exposed lingering tensions between liberal cities like Portland that want to combat climate change and rural areas where people fear further erosion to industries like farming, logging and trucking.
Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger told reporters that Republicans will return Saturday to vote on dozens of budget and policy bills before the legislative session ends at midnight Sunday. The Democratic governor had sent state police to try to round up Republicans, who also face $500-a-day fines.
"Our mission in walking out was to kill cap-and-trade," Baertschiger said. "And that's what we did." As the political crisis dragged on, Democrats said they didn't have enough votes even within their own caucus to pass the proposal targeting climate-changing emissions.
Baertschiger said he received assurances from the Democratic Senate president and Gov. Kate Brown that the climate bill won't move forward this session. "When the views of the minority are not respected, this country has a lot of history of pushing back, and I think that's exactly what we've seen here," Baertschiger said.
Republicans were able to exert their force in a state where Democrats have supermajorities in the House and Senate and hold the governorship. It was the second time this year GOP lawmakers have used a walkout to slow legislation they opposed.
They walked out of the Senate last month to block a school funding tax package. The standoff lasted four days until the governor struck a deal to table legislation on gun control and vaccine requirements.
"This is not how our democracy is supposed to work," said Tara Hurst, executive director of the lobbying group Renew Oregon, which helped craft the climate proposal. "Continuing to capitulate to demands of a small minority, which has taken our Legislature hostage, will only lead to more of the same because there are no consequences."
Democrats had said the climate legislation was critical to make Oregon a leader in the fight against climate change and will ultimately create jobs and transform the economy. They made dozens of concessions to respond to concerns from conservatives and industry leaders, but they didn't go as far as Republicans hoped.
The walkout spiraled out of control after the Senate president ordered the Capitol closed last weekend because of a "possible militia threat" from far-right groups during a protest. One of those groups, the Oregon Three Percenters, joined an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 and offered safe passage to senators on the run.
But the threat never materialized. Baertschiger didn't explicitly speak out against it but said he "condemns any type of violence." He did not denounce the comments of Republican Sen. Brian Boquist, who was heavily criticized after warning police that they should "come heavily armed" when they tried to bring him back to the Capitol.
Baertschiger said he's confident the Senate can work through dozens of measures before the legislative session ends. Democrats still want to push through huge priorities, including what would be the nation's most generous paid family leave program and money to expand affordable housing.
Democrats have an 18 to 12 majority in the Senate but need at least 20 members — and therefore at least two Republicans — to vote on legislation. Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, who chairs the committee in charge of funding decisions, told reporters that she trusted Baertschiger when he said the walkout was only over the climate bill.
It aimed to dramatically reduce greenhouse gases by 2050 by capping carbon emissions and requiring businesses to buy or trade for an ever-dwindling pool of pollution "allowances." California has a similar program.
She said she felt "relief" that Republicans agreed to return to get through the rest of the legislative agenda, including added funding for critical services like child welfare and public safety. Steiner Hayward said Democrats "want to continue to work on" addressing climate change and that the plan will likely come up again in the future.
"Nobody's giving up," she said.