May 23, 2023 - Politics

GOP senators might not face consequences for walkout — yet

Photo illustration of the Oregon State Capitol with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The three-week GOP walkout in the Oregon Senate has stalled a wide range of bills, but there will be no change in the makeup of the Senate during next year's short session, and the longer-term consequences may be tested in court.

Why it matters: Despite the ballot measure intended to stop walkouts that voters strongly approved last fall, Oregon may not see the end of the political tactic, even beyond the current regular legislative session.

Context: Last November, 68% of voters approved adding language to the state constitution barring lawmakers with 10 or more unexcused absences from "holding office" following the next election.

  • It does not bar them from running for office or winning elections.
  • Voters approved the measure in 34 of Oregon's 36 counties — all but Lake and Sherman.

State of play: Five of the 10 senators with at least 10 unexcused absences are up for reelection in 2024, but they will all be in office for the shorter legislative session that year.

  • Four are not up for reelection until 2026.
  • One, Sen. Bill Hansell, announced in March he is not seeking reelection.
  • Three other senators included in the group branding themselves "Oregon's Thirteen" have four or fewer unexcused absences.

The latest: Gov. Tina Kotek visited Senate offices Monday in an "apparent attempt to get the lawmakers back on the Senate floor," KATU reported.

Details: Both sides appear to be preparing for potential legal action around the constitutional amendment that created the 10-absence limit.

  • A group of progressive organizations asked leading Portland law firm Stoel Rives for their take, which Willamette Week reported as dismissive of Republican arguments that the amendment violates their free speech or right to run for office.

What they're saying: Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend) plans to bring a quorum back in order to pass "substantially bipartisan" budgets and bills; his spokesperson told Axios in an email that would happen "before June 25th. Guaranteed."

  • Last week he issued a statement calling the walkout a "peaceful, constitutional protest of the unlawful, uncompromising, and unconstitutional agenda" of the Democratic majority.

The other side: "We've shown up every day to do the work," Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber (D-Beaverton/SW Portland) said last week. "And we're continuing to show up."

Of note: Republicans have started fundraising around the walkout, including selling $25 T-shirts and coffee mugs.

What's next: The Senate was in session for just 21 minutes Monday. Senators saluted the flag and conducted courtesy business before adjourning because there weren't enough senators there to vote on bills.

  • The regular session is scheduled to end June 25.

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