Extended Boycott in Oregon Disqualifies GOP, Independent Senators From Being Reelected

Oregon Senate Republicans Dennis Linthicum and Daniel Bonham, along with former Republican turned independent Brian Boquist, were all disqualified on Monday from reelection under a new constitutional amendment aimed at stopping walkouts from the chamber.

This decision comes as the senators reached the 10-day boycotting limit, as they attempt to stall and block voting on bills pushing access to abortion, gun control, and gender-related health care in Oregon’s legislative sessions.

The GOP-led walkout of the Democrat-dominated Senate began on May 3, with some participating lawmakers rotating in and out to avoid being disqualified from a return to office. Each of the three affected senators accumulated 10 unexcused absences, making them ineligible to serve in the Legislature after their terms expire under a ballot measure voters passed overwhelmingly last year.

“The majority of Senate Republicans continue to walk off the job that the voters elected them to do, in which our Constitution compels them to attend,” Senate President Rob Wagner, a Democrat, said from the Senate podium.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon at the Capitol on Aug. 1, 2019. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon at the Capitol on Aug. 1, 2019. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon at the Capitol on Aug. 1, 2019. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The constitutional amendment, which was approved overwhelmingly in a ballot measure last November, disqualifies lawmakers with 10 unexcused absences from reelection in the next term.

The Oregon Constitution states that missing 10 or more floor sessions “shall be deemed disorderly behavior and shall disqualify the member from holding office as a senator or representative for the term following the election after the member’s current term is completed.”

An explanatory statement for Ballot Measure 113 says a disqualified candidate “may run for office … and win, but cannot hold office.”

Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek’s office responded to the walkouts saying that many important bills are at stake.

“Oregonians are demanding that elected leaders deliver results on homelessness, behavioral health, education, and other major issues right now,” Kotek spokesperson Elisabeth Shepard said in a statement.

Senate Republican Minority Leader Tim Knopp said in a statement on the GOP’s walkout strategy that he had told Democratic leaders that the Republicans would end their boycott “to pass substantially bipartisan budgets and bills that are lawful and constitutional.”

Wagner said earlier the Democrat’s sweeping “abortion rights-gender-affirming care” measure was not negotiable. Republicans want it off the table.

Knopp said all 12 Republican senators took part in the boycott on Monday “in solidarity” with the three senators facing disqualification. He blasted Democrats for pursuing an “extreme” agenda.

“Let it be abundantly clear: this is just the beginning of the fight,” Knopp said in a statement.

“It is my hope that this will give us time to work out a legitimate agreement that will benefit all Oregonians,” he added.

In a lawsuit (pdf), state Sen. Suzanne Weber and state Rep. Emily McIntire, both Republicans, joined the pro-life advocacy group Oregon Right To Life to specifically block the bill and accused Democrats of not obeying the law. They are requesting that a judge prohibit the Senate from passing the bill.

”It is abundantly clear that there is a concerted effort to undermine both the people and bring the Legislature to a halt, in violation of the constitution of the state of Oregon,” Wagner said from the podium.

Republicans are protesting that the bills’ summaries not written in plain language, as required by a 1979 state law.

That law that requires the summaries of bills to be readable by those with an eighth- or ninth-grade education, which is measured by a score of at least 60 on something called the Flesch readability test.

Advocates for LGBTQ rights, gun safety, housing for the homeless, and abortion access are urging Republicans to return to the state Capitol as only 16 senators were present on Monday—four short of the quorum. Under Oregon law, a quorum in the Senate or House is two-thirds of members being present.

“There is still time for senators to come back and do their job—41 days before the end of the 2023 legislative session,” Wagner said. “We have very important work before us this session. We are here to fund our schools, to support our seniors, to repair our infrastructure and our bridges, and make Oregon a great place to live and raise families.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report 

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