SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon state senators with at least 10 absences during a record-setting Republican walkout are supposed to be disqualified from running for reelection, but several on Thursday filed candidacy papers with election authorities.
Following GOP walkouts in the Legislature in 2019, 2020 and 2021, Oregon voters last year overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment disqualifying legislators from reelection following the end of their term if they are absent from 10 or more legislative floor sessions without permission or excuse.
Several 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.
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.
Thursday marked the first day for candidates to file declarations of candidacy with the Oregon secretary of state's elections division. GOP Senate leader Tim Knopp, who led the walkout, went to the election offices in Salem early Thursday and submitted a candidate filing form for the 2024 primary election, paying the $25 fee by check.
He and other lawmakers who boycotted the Senate insist that the way the amendment to the state constitution is written means they can seek another term. Also filing for reelection on Thursday were Sen. Dennis Linthicum and Sen. Art Robinson, according to the secretary of state's office. They both had exceeded the unexcused absences limit.
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 in 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 Thursday.
Oregon Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade announced on Aug. 8 that the senators with 10 or more unexcused absences 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.
But several Republican state senators who boycotted filed suit against 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 asked the appeals court to send the matter straight to the state Supreme Court, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported on Aug. 29.
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.
Andrew Selsky, The Associated Press