Oregon’s top court asked to decide if senators who boycotted Legislature can be reelected

Andrew Selsky
Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Court of Appeals on Monday asked the state’s highest court to decide whether Republican state senators who carried out a record-setting GOP walkout this year can run for reelection.
The senators are challenging a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2022 that bars them from being reelected after having 10 or more unexcused absences. Oregon voters last year overwhelmingly approved the ballot measure that created the amendment following GOP walkouts in the Legislature in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Statehouses around the nation have become ideological battlegrounds in recent years, including in Montana, Tennessee and Oregon, where the lawmakers’ walkout this year was the longest in state history and the second-longest in the United States.
Several Oregon state senators with at least 10 absences have already filed candidacy papers with election authorities, even though Oregon Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade announced on Aug. 8 that they are disqualified from running for legislative seats in the 2024 election.
“My decision honors the voters’ intent by enforcing the measure the way it was commonly understood when Oregonians added it to our state constitution,” Griffin-Valade said.
The senators from the minority party sued Griffin-Valade in the Oregon Court of Appeals, aimed at forcing state officials to allow them to seek reelection. They and Oregon Department of Justice attorneys on the opposite side of the case jointly last month asked the appeals court to send the matter straight to the state Supreme Court.
The appeals court on Monday formally asked the Oregon Supreme Court to take the case, said Todd Sprague, spokesman for the Oregon Judicial Department. The Supreme Court has 20 days to grant or deny and can add up to 10 days to make a decision on the request, Sprague said.
There were nine Oregon Republicans and an independent who clocked at least 10 absences during this year’s legislative session in order to block Democratic bills covering abortion, transgender health care and gun rights. The walkout prevented a quorum, holding up bills in the Democrat-led Senate for six weeks.
As part of the deal to end the walkout in June with barely one week left in the legislative session, Democrats agreed to change language concerning parental notifications for abortion. Democrats also agreed to drop several amendments on a gun bill that would have increased the purchasing age from 18 to 21 for semiautomatic rifles and placed more limits on concealed carry.
The terms of six of the senators who accumulated at least 10 unexcused absences end in January 2025, meaning they’d be up for reelection next year. One of them, Sen. Bill Hansell, has announced he will retire when his term ends.
Those who have filed for reelection include GOP Senate leader Tim Knopp, who led the walkout.
The senators insist that the way the amendment to the state constitution is written means they can seek another term.
The constitutional amendment says a lawmaker is not allowed to run “for the term following the election after the member’s current term is completed.” Since a senator’s term ends in January while elections are held the previous November, they argue the penalty doesn’t take effect immediately, but instead, after they’ve served another term.
“The clear language of Measure 113 allows me to run one more time,” Knopp said in a statement when he filed as a candidate on Sept. 14.
Ben Morris, the secretary of state’s spokesman, said all parties want the court “to quickly rule on Measure 113 and settle this matter.”
The longest walkout by state lawmakers in the U.S. was a century ago. In 1924, Republican senators in Rhode Island fled to Rutland, Massachusetts, and stayed away for six months, ending Democratic efforts to have a popular referendum on the holding of a constitutional convention.