Oregon Supreme Court Rules 10 Republican Senators Who Walked Out Are Not Eligible For Reelection
The Oregon Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp and nine other senators are barred from reelection. Kopp galvanized the Republican-led walkout of last year’s legislative session.
The Supreme Court- in a unanimous decision, rejected the argument of five Republican lawmakers that the plain language of Measure 113 allows them to serve one more term, notwithstanding their decision to boycott more than 10 legislative floor sessions last year. The court ruled that voters understood the measure to mean that boycotting lawmakers would be immediately barred from seeking reelection.
The 10 state senators who participated in a Republican-led walkout during last year’s legislative session are now barred from being reelected as early as this year. The Republican senators challenging the measure were Sens. Tim Knopp from Bend, Suzanne Weber from Tillamook, Daniel Bonham from Madras, Lynn Findley from Vale, and Dennis Linthicum from Klamath Falls.
According to Oregon’s Constitution, lawmakers missing 10 or more legislative floor sessions without an excuse are barred from holding office as a Senator or Representative for the term that follows the election, after the member’s current term has ended. Voters overwhelmingly approved Measure 113 in 2022, an initiative that was intended to put an end to the walkouts that Republicans- as the minority party in the Legislature, have often resorted to in recent years. This action stalled the bills proposed by Democrats and forced them to scale back reproductive rights and gun control legislation last spring.
LaVonne Griffin-Valade- Secretary of State, who oversees state elections, announced in August last year that 9 Republicans and the one Independent senator who participated in a six-week walkout during the year were barred from running for reelection at the end of their current terms. Five Republicans challenged Griffin-Valade’s ruling, arguing that they were eligible to run for another term. They relied on bungled language in Measure 113. Their terms are ending in November 2024 or 2026.
The Court confirmed that they do not see the text of Measure 113 in a void, but rather seek to understand how voters understood the text, using the other materials available to voters at the time. They disagreed with the senators, indicating that the language in the measure does not unambiguously support either interpretation. The court found that there was nothing in the 2022 media coverage or Voters’ Pamphlet implying that the Republican senators would be able to run again. Their view was that voters would have understood the disqualification to apply to the term of office that immediately followed the term in which a legislator accrued 10 or more unexcused absences.
As a result, the court rejected the petitioners’ challenge. Griffin-Valade is grateful that the Oregon Supreme Court has given clarity on how to implement Measure 113. Because the ruling applies to the nine Republican senators and single Independent who participated in the walk-out in 2023, a third of the Senate is barred from reelection.
With a March 12 deadline for candidates to file to run for office looming, Knopp, Linthicum, Art Robinson of Cave Junction, and Brian Boquist, an Independent from Dallas, who could have stood for reelection this year are no longer allowed to. Findley and Bill Hansell of Pendleton whose terms are ending this year are retiring. As a result, at least five of the 11 Republicans in the Senate, and the sole Independent, will vacate their offices in January 2025, which could reshape the chamber.
Linthicum’s wife is running for his seat and Robinson’s son- Noah, will run for his place. Knopp endorsed Shannon Monihan- Downtown Bend Business Association Executive Director for his District 27 seat in January. There are likely to be contested races, giving Democrats the opportunity to pick up at least one additional seat. 36,578 Democrats and 26,529 Republicans are registered in Knopp’s Bend district, redrawn in 2021.
One of four states that requires a two-thirds majority in the Legislature to meet a quorum, Oregon now has 17 Democrats in the 30-person Oregon Senate, which means that at least three minority party senators have to be present every day for the chamber to conduct their business during the five-week session that begins on Monday.
The Oregon Supreme Court’s ruling full text is available here.