Salem, Oregon — The Oregon Supreme Court ruled Thursday that 10 Republican state senators who staged a record-long walkout last year to obstruct abortion, transgender health care, and gun rights issues cannot run again.
The secretary of state's decision to exclude senators from the ballot under a voter-approved boycott ban was upheld. Measure 113, approved in 2022, banned lawmakers with more than 10 unexcused absences from being reelected. Last year's six-week boycott, the longest in state history, stalled hundreds of measures. Sens. Tim Knopp, Daniel Bonham, Suzanne Weber, Dennis Linthicum, and Lynn Findley sued the secretary of state. They were one of 10 GOP senators with over 10 absences.
We obviously disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling,” said Senate minority leader Knopp. But more crucially, this ruling will suppress dissent, which we truly regret. Senate Democratic President Rob Wagner applauded the decision.
“Today’s ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court means that legislators and the public now know how Measure 113 will be applied, and that is good for our state,” he stated. Alejandro Queral, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy, said in an emailed statement that walkouts allow a small number of politicians to overrule the majority, which harms democracy.
After voters adopted Measure 113, senators and state attorneys argued over the grammar and syntax of the text added to the state constitution in December before the Oregon Supreme Court. The amendment prohibits lawmakers from running “for the term following the election after the member's current term is completed.
Senators usually run for reelection in November 2024 if their terms conclude in January 2025. Republican senators contended that the “election after the member’s current term is completed” would not be until November 2028, so they could seek for reelection this year and serve another term before becoming ineligible.
The court disagreed, ruling that while the amendment's text was confusing, the ballot title and explanatory statement proved that the goal was to ban truant politicians from running again. “Those other materials expressly and uniformly informed voters that the amendment would apply to a legislator's immediate next terms of office, indicating that voters understood and intended that meaning,” the justices ruled.
The senators sued Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade for excluding boycotting senators from running for reelection last August. Her elections section was instructed to adopt a policy she supported. All parties to the complaint sought clarification before the March 2024 filing deadline for candidates in this year's election.
The Senate minority leader, Knopp, said he would neither appeal or join a court lawsuit launched by three Republican senators disputing their ballot exclusion. A federal court ruled against the three congressmen in December, and they appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He acknowledged that “significant turnover” among Republican senators would be difficult but seemed unconcerned. Although he cannot run for reelection, he said he would not counsel Republicans against long walkouts.
I think legislators need to stand on the principles that they believe in, and if you believe in it enough to make the sacrifice, then you most certainly should,” he told reporters Thursday. Knopp said he wasn't sure what he'd do after 2024. “Who knows if this is a pause in public service for me and the others, or if it’s the end of a road and a new beginning,” he remarked.
The 2023 walkout paralyzed the Legislature for weeks until Republicans forced Democrats to compromise on a broad abortion and transgender health care bill and a ghost gun bill. After Republican legislative walkouts in 2019, 2020, and 2021, Oregon voters overwhelmingly adopted Measure 113.
STAY TURNED FOR DEVELOPMENT