‘Credible threat’ cited as Senate cancels Saturday session, advises staff to stay away

Senate President Peter Courtney goes through motions of convening the Senate on Thursday, June 20, after Republican senators made good on their plan to abandon the Capitol. (Claire Withycombe/Oregon Capital Bureau)

SALEM — An expected Saturday session of the Oregon Senate was cancelled Friday afternoon after Oregon State Police reported a “credible threat from militia groups” planning to meet at the Capitol.

Senators were advised to avoid the building and have their employees do the same, according to a message sent from the Senate Democratic caucus office Friday and obtained by the Oregon Capital Bureau.

The development comes as the Senate’s 11 Republicans remain missing from the Capitol, hoping to pressure legislative leaders into modifying a controversial cap-and-trade legislation that was to have been voted on by the Senate Thursday.

“IMPORTANT UPDATE: The Senate will NOT be meeting tomorrow (Saturday),” the message read. “The State Police superintendent just informed the Senate president of a credible threat from militia groups coming to the Capitol tomorrow. The superintendent strongly recommends that no one come to the Capitol and President Courtney heeded that advice minutes ago by adjourning until 10 a.m. Sunday.”

“Please make sure your staffs know not to come in tomorrow,” the message continued. “We are still planning to come in Sunday.”

In an email to the Oregon Capital Bureau, a spokeswoman for Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said that the Capitol would be closed Saturday “upon recommendation of the state police of possible threats by militia groups.”

Just before 5 p.m. Friday, a Capitol-wide email was sent notifying everyone that the building would be closed Saturday.

Individuals associated with Oregon militia groups have been active on social media since the Republicans disappeared.

Some have called on a defense force to protect the senators from the state police. One militia leader specifically identified a Republican senator as asking for militia help but that senator denied to the Oregon Capital Bureau making any such comment.

Gov. Kate Brown, acting at the request of legislative leaders, directed State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton to find and return the senators to the Capitol.

She was acting on authority in the Constitution and Oregon law, state officials said.

Republicans’ absence was intended to deny the Senate the 20 members required to meet. Democrats number 18, not enough to legally meet for votes.

Republicans’ departure has stirred national attention.

Earlier this week, Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, told a television station that if the state troopers were sent, they should be “bachelors” and “heavily armed.”

In response to that statement, Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, sent a joint statement late Friday “strongly” condemning the comments.

“Law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day in the name of protecting Oregonians and should never be subject to these kinds of threats, let alone from a public official,” the statement said. “His comments have created fear among employees in our workplace. We will always defend free speech and welcome frank policy discussions, but threats like these are unacceptable.”

Reporter Claire Withycombe: [email protected] or 971-304-4148. Withycombe is a reporter for the East Oregonian working for the Oregon Capital Bureau, a collaboration of EO Media Group, Pamplin Media Group, and Salem Reporter.

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