SALEM —Tim Knopp played a high-profile role in the 2019 Oregon Legislature — even in his absence.
The Republican senator from Bend was at the center of the most compassionate and most caustic moment in the Capitol this year.
In April, he brought the father and stepmother of Kaylee Sawyer to the Senate floor. In a rare moment of unanimity, the senators passed Kaylee’s Law, named after the Bend woman murdered by a Central Oregon Community College security guard in 2016. After the solemn ceremony, leaders said the often-divisive legislators had spoken as one.
“There are no Democrats or Republicans on this floor today,” Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said with pride.
Then in June, there were no Republicans on the floor at all.
Knopp was one of 11 GOP senators who left Salem — and the state — to deny a quorum for a vote on the Democrat’s bill to cap carbon emissions. Courtney asked Gov. Kate Brown to send state police to find and compel the lawmakers to return.
“This is the saddest day of my legislative life,” Courtney said.
Hiding out in Idaho, Knopp spoke to reporters, talk radio and “Fox & Friends.”
He allowed a crew from HBO’s Vice News to come to the lakeside cabin where he was staying. He argued that the carbon cap bill would devastate rural economies and the walkout was the last tool “the Oregon 11” had at their disposal.
Brown said Knopp and the others were trying to derail democracy by blocking lawmakers who represented a majority of Oregonians.
“Senate Republicans have failed to show up and failed to do their jobs,” Brown said.
With 150 other bills facing extinction if the Senate didn’t return before the mandatory adjournment at midnight June 30, Democrats killed the carbon cap. Knopp and the others returned for an epic session where senators bickered, threatened and cold-shouldered each other through a final weekend.
Knopp said after the session that Kaylee’s Law and the walkout were pieces of his effort to do good for his district, just like his work to get affordable housing projects approved in Bend and Redmond.
“I believe I played a key role in many of the successes that happened in the 2019 session, and believe I can make a positive impact in the future,” he said.
Among the legislation rapidly passed in the last 48 hours was Senate Joint Resolution 18, asking voters to decide whether the state constitution should be amended to allow for campaign contribution limits. It will be on the November 2020 ballot. Knopp was a chief co-sponsor, joining with five Democrats to push the bill through the Legislature. In the Senate, just two of his fellow Republican caucus members supported the bill.
The effort on SJR 18 showed Knopp was not in lock-step with the Senate GOP caucus.
Knopp also voted with Democrats to strengthen workplace harassment rules, for paid family medical leave, and to increase the budget for educational improvements (though he opposed a business activities tax as one way to pay for it).
He joined a centrist coalition to pass Senate Bill 1049, a temporary fix for the ballooning PERS pension program. Many of his fellow Republicans voted no, calling it a band-aid on a gaping wound. Some Democrats voted no because public employees would have to contribute to future benefits — a first.
Knopp said doing something small was better than doing nothing.
“This is not a permanent solution,” Knopp said during a floor speech. “We will be back in two years and four years, and we will have to address it yet again.”
The votes were the exceptions. Most of the time, Knopp was a vocal supporter of the GOP position against most taxes, gun control and mandatory vaccines for schoolchildren.
“When the government can send you a mandate that you have a medical procedure that you do not want, there is no freedom in America,” Knopp told about 1,000 opponents of the vaccine bill at an April 23 rally on the Capitol steps.
Knopp didn’t just join the walkout over the carbon cap bill, he became its chief advocate to the outside world through his frequent media contacts.
In the HBO interview, he said he was willing to leave the country if other states aided Brown’s order to apprehend the senators.
“I do have my passport with me,” Knopp said.
Knopp is known for his cool demeanor and didn’t become embroiled in angry arguments and harangues before and during the walkout, or recriminations that broke out on the Senate floor at its end. He doubts any damage to relationships between the parties will carry to next year’s session.
“I don’t believe the ‘Oregon 11’s’ political protest will have a big impact on the ability of the Senate to function in 2020 if both sides commit to having the voices of all Oregonians heard and respected,” he said.
Despite the high drama of the walkout, Knopp said the most memorable event for him was passing Kaylee’s Law. Based on statements by the killer, Edwin Lara, Sawyer had been lured into the vehicle because the uniforms, car markings, and equipment closely resembled law enforcement. Once in the back seat, the killer had sole control of the door locks and a divider known as a “cage” separated the front and the back.
The new law required campus security forces to get rid of police lookalike uniforms, vehicles and equipment, and mandated thorough national background checks and psychological evaluations for applicants.
“We made something great happen — protecting our student’s safety — out of a tragedy, Knopp said.
Knopp’s Senate District 27 seat is up for election in 2020. Though he has updated his campaign finance committee to be eligible for the 2020 election, Knopp says he’ll wait awhile before saying if he wants another four-year term. He’s 53 and a new grandfather.
“I will make a final decision on whether to run in 2020 by the end of the year based on input from my family, friends and employer,” Knopp said. Knopp is Executive Vice-President of the nonprofit Central Oregon Builders Association in Bend.
Knopp has walked away from Salem once before. He was elected to the House in 1998 and rose to be House majority leader in 2002 and 2003. He opted not to seek re-election in 2004. Knopp was out of office until mounting a last minute challenge in 2012 against incumbent Sen. Chris Telfer, R-Bend. He won the primary and general election, then was reelected in 2016.
— Reporter: 541-640-2750, email@example.com