SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Supreme Court said Thursday that 10 Republican state senators who staged a record-long walkout last year to stall bills on abortion, transgender health care and gun rights cannot run for re-election.
The decision upholds the secretary of state’s decision to disqualify the senators from the ballot under a voter-approved measure aimed at stopping such boycotts. Measure 113, passed by voters in 2022, amended the state constitution to bar lawmakers from re-election if they have more than 10 unexcused absences.
Last year’s boycott lasted six weeks — the longest in state history — and paralyzed the legislative session, stalling hundreds of bills.
Five lawmakers sued over the secretary of state’s decision — Sens. Tim Knopp, Daniel Bonham, Suzanne Weber, Dennis Linthicum and Lynn Findley. They were among the 10 GOP senators who racked up more than 10 absences.
During oral arguments before the Oregon Supreme Court in December, attorneys for the senators and the state wrestled over the grammar and syntax of the language that was added to the state constitution after Measure 113 was approved by voters.
The amendment says a lawmaker is not allowed to run “for the term following the election after the member’s current term is completed.” The senators claimed the amendment meant they could seek another term, 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 rather, after they’ve served another term.
The two sides also wrestled with the slight differences in wording that appeared on the actual ballot that voters filled out and the text of the measure as included in the voters’ pamphlet.
The ballot said the result of a vote in favor of the measure would disqualify legislators with 10 or more unexcused absences from holding office for the “term following current term of office.” It did not include the word “election,” as the text of the measure that appeared in the pamphlet did. What appeared in the pamphlet was ultimately added to the state constitution.
The state argued that in casting a “yes” vote in support of the measure, voters intended that legislators with that many absences be barred from running after their current term is up.
The senators’ lawsuit was filed against Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade, who last August said the boycotting senators were disqualified from seeking re-election. She directed her office’s elections division to implement an administrative rule based on her stance.
All parties in the suit had sought clarity on the issue before the March 2024 filing deadline for candidates who want to run in this year’s election.
The 2023 walkout paralyzed the Legislature for weeks and only ended after Republicans forced concessions from Democrats on a sweeping bill related to expanding access to abortion and transgender health care and another measure regarding the manufacture and transfer of undetectable firearms, known as ghost guns.
Oregon voters approved Measure 113 by a wide margin following Republican walkouts in the Legislature in 2019, 2020 and 2021.