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Politics & Government

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown Will Declare Emergency, Ready National Guard Ahead Of Election

Kate Brown Bradley W Parks.jpg
Bradley W. Parks

It's the second time in two months Brown has used an emergency declaration to prepare for possible political violence in Portland.

Bracing for the possibility of political violence stemming from Tuesday’s election, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is declaring a state of emergency in the Portland area and readying National Guard troops for potential deployment.

Brown announced Monday that she’d use her authority to declare an emergency from 5 p.m. Monday until 5 p.m. Wednesday. It’s the second time in two months that the governor has declared an emergency in preparation for possible violence.

The declaration allows Brown to rejigger the command structure among law enforcement entities responding to unrest in Portland. Rather than the Portland Police Bureau, which would typically take the lead, response will be co-managed by the Oregon State Police and Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.

The arrangement is in part a way to allow law enforcement to use crowd control devices such as CS gas, a type of tear gas, which Portland police have been prohibited from using by Mayor Ted Wheeler. Both state police and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office have expressed concern about responding to tense situations without the ability to use the gas to disperse crowds.

Brown is also directing the Oregon National Guard to place troops on standby in case they are needed. The governor has been extremely reticent to use the guard during months of unrest in Portland, but troops were prepared to respond during the most contentious nights of protest this summer. Ultimately, the guard was only used in protest response once this summer, and even then troops were not on the streets engaging with demonstrators.

“As things ramp up ... then we bring people in,” said Col. David Unruh, commander of the Oregon Air National Guard’s 142nd Fighter Wing, in an interview last week. Unruh said at the time he had not yet received direction from the governor’s office to prepare for possible deployment in Portland.

The preparations come as Portland and cities throughout the country brace for fallout from an election with little precedent. With a record number of Americans voting by mail due to the coronavirus, President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to cast doubt on any electoral outcome in which he’s the loser — rhetoric that could further inflame tensions, particularly if results are tight.

While Portland is a liberal bastion guaranteed to heavily favor former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, the city in recent years has repeatedly been the target of right-wing groups, who have held rallies that have at times spilled over into open violence.

There is no evidence that voting by mail is not secure or lends itself to easy voter fraud, as Trump has claimed. Over the course of two decades of conducting elections by mail, Oregon has prosecuted a vanishingly small number of fraud cases among millions upon millions of ballots cast, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office — about 0.0000006%.

Brown’s announcement puts to rest questions about how authorities would address potential election unrest. Last week, authorities held a joint press conference to warn against any illegal or violent activity, but did not offer clarity on which agencies would lead a response.

“I want to be really clear that voter intimidation, disruption, blocking access to ballot drop sites, preventing people from casting their ballots, any violence before or after the election will not be tolerated,” Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese said at the time.

The governor last invoked an emergency to prepare for potential violence in September, when the far-right group the Proud Boys claimed it was bringing tens of thousands of people to a rally in North Portland.

Brown and city leaders worried the event would spur a clash with counterdemonstrators. Opposing factions have openly brawled in the city repeatedly in recent years, and a supporter of the conservative group Patriot Prayer was shot and killed at a confrontation in late August.

By handing control to the state police superintendent and county sheriff, Brown has been able to work around concerns that those agencies would not be able to use tear gas to disperse crowds they deemed unlawful.

But the emergency arrangement employed in September produced an unexpected wrinkle, when more than 50 Portland police officers were deputized as federal agents — a designation that allows federal prosecutors to pursue more serious federal charges against demonstrators.

City officials were caught off guard when they learned that the deputations would last until the end of the year, rather than a matter of days. U.S. Attorney Billy Williams declined to cancel the deputations, despite the city’s request. That ultimately led the Portland City Council to take its own action to restrict officers who have been deputized.

It was not immediately clear Monday morning whether any similar deputations would be put in place during this emergency declaration.

OPB reporter Jonathan Levinson contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting