July 23, 2024

Senate stalemate continues as talks to salvage session drag on

Oregon lawmakers, lobbyists and legislative staffers drink beer and mingle at a social event organized by the Craft Brewers Caucus on Tuesday, June 13, 2023. Negotiations to end Republican-led walkout in the Senate continued on Wednesday. Ben Botkin/Oregon Capital Chronicle photo by Ben Botkin
June 14, 2023

Legislative paralysis doesn’t stop Oregon lawmakers from sipping some suds

By Ben Botkin, Oregon Capital Chronicle 

The Oregon Capitol was cloaked in a veil of silence on Wednesday, as senators negotiated behind the scenes to try and reach an agreement to end the GOP-led walkout.

Senate aides and staffers remained tight-lipped, as was Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, as he gaveled out the floor session without taking attendance, as he has since Monday. 

“More to come,” Wagner said as he exited the Senate chamber, declining to comment further.

Since late last week, the pace of negotiations has picked up. Senate Democrats said they now know what Senate Republicans want to return since the walkout started May 3. The session faces a June 25 deadline to adjourn, and bills that would address homelessness, affordable housing, public education and wildfires hang in the balance.

The two sides are haggling over House Bill 2002, which would expand abortion rights, among others. Republican senators, in particular, oppose a provision allowing all minors to have an abortion without parental consent. They’re also against House Bill 2005, which would raise the minimum age to purchase most firearms from 18 to 21 years.

Senate sources have said amendments to those bills could be part of a potential deal to end the walkout, though proposals are constantly changing. 

Republican and Democratic Senate leaders had little to say on Wednesday about how close they may be to a deal. Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, who’s leading the talks on the Republican side, was unavailable for comment. 

With private negotiations underway, state lawmakers enjoyed a break early Tuesday evening.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers, lobbyists, legislative staffers and others drank beer, ate sandwiches and socialized on the rooftop terrace of the state Capitol building. The annual legislative event, organized by the Craft Brewers Caucus, celebrates Oregon’s beer brewing industry. The caucus, chaired by Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, works on issues important to the industry. Oregon beer distributors account for 3,066 jobs statewide and an economic impact of $951.3 million, according to an industry report.

Some senators — for the evening, at least — left behind their stress and furrowed brows for ice cold beer, laughter and casual conversation.

“This is a time to put politics aside,” Prozanski said in brief remarks as he welcomed the group and urged them to socialize and bond.

Wagner was not at the event. Neither was Knopp, who doesn’t drink alcohol.

A handful of Democratic and Republican senators interviewed by the Capital Chronicle said the gathering — planned long before the walkout started — gave them a much-needed break even though the Senate is unable to conduct business. 

“I would hope the public doesn’t have issues with us just gathering and socializing,” Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland. “Believe me, it’s a lot of hard work going on here.”

His Republican colleague, Sen. Bill Hansell of Athena, agreed.

“I hadn’t thought about it ‘til you brought it up,” he told a reporter.

Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, drinking nonalcoholic beer, said it’s important to build connections and keep talking.

“I mean, we think what’s happening is terrible,” Golden said of the stalemate in the Senate. “And maybe the optics are that we’re fiddling while Rome burns or something.”

Meanwhile, Sen. James Manning, D-Eugene, said he’s hopeful for a resolution to end the walkout. 

“All I know is that if we don’t reach a quorum, a lot of good policy bills are going to die,” he said.

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Email him at

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