Feb 1, 2024 - News

Oregon senators who walked out barred from reelection

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

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Oregon Supreme Court said Thursday that 10 state senators who staged a record-long walkout last year cannot run for reelection for their next terms.

Why it matters: The court's ruling, like an earlier decision by Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade, bolsters a voter-approved ballot measure in 2022 that sought to stop protest walkouts.

Context: Griffin-Valade said her decision was made in compliance with the voter-supported Measure 113.

  • After that measure was approved, the state constitution was amended to say a lawmaker is not allowed to run "for the term following the election after the member's current term is completed."

The intrigue: Five Republican senators sued Griffin-Valade, arguing that the ban was intended to go into effect in six years, not this year.

In their decision, the justices disagreed, saying "voters intended that result."

What they're saying: "The Supreme Court upheld the will of the voters who want their elected officials to show up and work together to solve our toughest problems," Democratic Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber says.

The other side: Republican Senate Minority Leader Sen. Tim Knopp said in a written statement that he and his fellow senators are "deeply disturbed by the chilling impact this decision will have to crush dissent."

State of play: Four of the 10 senators with at least 10 unexcused absences are up for re-election in 2024, but they are all in office for the shorter legislative session, which starts Feb. 5.

  • Four are not up for reelection until 2026: Sens. Daniel Bonham of The Dalles, Cedric Hayden of Fall Creek, Kim Thatcher of Keizer and Suzanne Weber of Tillamook.
  • Two others are retiring this year — Lynn Findley of Vale and Bill Hansell of Pendleton.

What's happening: The lame-duck senators could continue to block proceedings by staying away, thus preventing a quorum.

  • Knopp had warned on Wednesday that if they lost their case, Republican legislators would "literally have no reason to show up" in the coming short session unless Democrats offer them policy concessions as incentives.
  • Posting on X, constitutional law scholar Quinn Yeargain at Widener University Commonwealth Law School wrote: "This is no way for a modern legislative body to function."

What's next: Ahead of the court ruling, the senators designated successors to run for their seats, including family members, according to the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

What we're watching: Whether Democrats can pick up Knopp's seat.

  • There are 36,578 registered Democrats and only 26,529 registered Republicans in Knopp's Bend district, which was redrawn in 2021, according to The Oregonian.

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