Duo lead the hunt for truant GOP senators
After this week, Oregon Senate observers know what it looks like when the body doesn't have enough members present to do business.
It's gone the same in all six abortive floor sessions — two each day, from Tuesday on. Senate President Peter Courtney calls the roll. Eighteen or 19 senators check in, some present for the first call, others drifting in late. Most sit at their desks; some chat with aides or reporters in the back or off to the sides. Eventually, someone requests a "call of the Senate," and the roll is called again, with the same result.
That's when Leta Edwards and Michael Ketsdever spring into action.
At the Senate president's request, the sergeant-at-arms and her assistant sweep the third and fourth floors, where Republican senators have their offices, to make sure there are no stragglers.
There aren't, of course. Senate Republicans have mostly stayed away from the building this week. There have been exceptions, such as Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, who helped form a bare-minimum quorum of 20 senators on Monday and has been his caucus' lead negotiator with Courtney, who wants to get the minority senators back to work. Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, attended Wednesday and Thursday's floor sessions while professing "solidarity" with the rest of his caucus. Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, showed up briefly Thursday morning to testify on a bill in committee but had evidently scarpered before the 11 a.m. floor session.
Republicans have been determined to deny Democrats a quorum to conduct Senate business. They are protesting House Bill 3427, a bill that would raise a net $1 billion per year in taxes to bolster Oregon's public education system and early learning, which was at the top of the Senate's agenda on Tuesday — and has been ever since.
"It was the first bill up," Courtney said Wednesday. "No matter what happens, when we go back in, it will be our first bill up."
Still, Edwards and Ketsdever do their due diligence.
With a reporter trailing a few feet behind him, Ketsdever walked briskly through the third floor, stopping by each absent senator's office. He knocked on their doors, waited a few seconds, and then moved on to the next. If there were legislative aides present in a particular office, he asked them first.
Is the senator in?
Has the senator been in today?
Haven't seen him.
Can he knock on his door anyway?
With Ketsdever having checked the third floor and Edwards the fourth, they report back to Courtney that no senators could be located. The quorum call is retracted. The senators who showed up are dismissed. Rinse, wash, repeat.
Edwards' job isn't always ceremonial. She said she's searched the basement, the first floor and other parts of the Capitol before in search of wayward senators, in cases when there are enough senators in the building for a quorum but some are taking their time getting to the floor.
But during this organized walkout, she and Ketsdever, who is the honorary page coordinator in the Senate in addition to being Edwards' assistant, know they're not going to find the senators they're looking for. They'll check the offices and ask the aides, but turning over the whole building — there's no point.
"I don't think they're findable right now," Edwards said of the absent 11. "They're purposely nowhere that we can easily find them."