SALEM, Ore. – Two Republicans and an Independent taking part in a boycott that has stalled hundreds of bills in the Oregon Senate, including measures on abortion and gender-affirming care, were disqualified Monday from reelection under a new constitutional amendment aimed at stopping such walkouts.
The GOP-led walkout of the Democrat-dominated Senate has stretched to 10 days, though some participating lawmakers have rotated in and out since the boycott began May 3. Each of the three affected senators accumulated 10 unexcused absences, making them ineligible to serve in the Legislature for the period 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 said from the Senate podium. He added in an email: “Three senators have now unnecessarily disqualified themselves from a subsequent term in the Legislature.”
Sen. Tim Knopp, the Senate Republican Leader, said Monday that during weekend negotiations to end the boycott, 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 earlier said the 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.
The three boycotting senators who reached the 10-day limits for automatic disqualification are Republicans Dennis Linthicum and Daniel Bonham and Independent Brian Boquist, a former Republican.
Ballot Measure 113 was passed by almost 70% of voters last November as a method to end walkouts that have plagued the Legislature for several years. It is now written into the state Constitution.
The Constitution now says 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.”
But left unclear is whether they can run for office as candidates.
The test will perhaps come when the window for filing as candidates in the 2024 election opens in September.
Ben Morris, spokesman for the secretary of state's office, earlier said the courts have interpreted elections statutes to state that the Elections Division can’t allow a candidate on the ballot if it knows the candidate won’t qualify for office.
But an explanatory statement for Ballot Measure 113 says a disqualified candidate “may run for office ... and win, but cannot hold office.”
Court challenges are expected. Boquist said in an email Monday that he believes he'll be allowed on the ballot if he offers himself as a candidate in 2024.
“The Elections Division has no authority on the absence clause of the Oregon Constitution,” Boquist said. “They will avoid it completely.”
Bonham and Linthicum didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on their disqualifications. Linthicum's seat is also up for election in 2024, Bonham's in 2026.
In a May 9 email to constituents, Bonham accused Democrats of ignoring a long-forgotten 1979 law that said summaries of bills need to be written at an eighth-grade level — a law which was resurrected this month by the Republicans.
Bonham also blasted the abortion-protection bill as an assault on parents' rights because it lacks a requirement for girls to notify their parents of their decision to have an abortion.
“I will not sit by and help move along the majority party’s extreme and unconstitutional agenda — especially with their complete and obvious dismissal of the law,” Bonham wrote.
On Monday, only 16 senators were present, four short of the quorum. Wagner pleaded with them to return. 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.
He reminded lawmakers that the Legislature must also approve a biennial state budget before the end of June.
Meanwhile, Senate committees and joint committees, where quorum is reached with 50% attendance, continued on Monday, with some Republicans in attendance..