SALEM, Ore. (AP) — 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 reelection under a voter-approved 2022 ballot measure.
Among those who won’t be on the ballot is Sen. Tim Knopp of Bend, who intimated the decision was partisan.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to argue with the fact that there are no Republicans on that court, because there aren’t. And there are no conservatives, either. So I’m not really surprised by the decision,” Knopp said in a press conference after the decision Thursday.
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 reelection 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.
Senate Republicans swiftly denounced the ruling, blaming Democrats and unions over the measure that was approved by 68.3% of voters in 2022.
“We obviously disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling. But more importantly, we are deeply disturbed by the chilling impact this decision will have to crush dissent,” Knopp said in a statement.
Democratic Senate President Rob Wagner welcomed 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 said in a statement.
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.”
“You can never convince me when it says the election after your current term is completed applies to an election that takes place before your term is completed. Quite frankly, it’s ridiculous. So yeah, clearly I don’t agree with the decision,” Knopp said.
The debate was over when that ineligibility kicks in: If a senator’s term ends in January 2025, they would typically seek reelection in November 2024. The “election after the member’s current term is completed” would not be until November 2028, the Republican senators argued, so they could run for reelection this year and then hold office for another term before becoming ineligible.
The court disagreed, saying that while the language of the amendment was ambiguous, the information provided to voters in the ballot title and explanatory statement made clear that the intent was to bar truant lawmakers from holding office in the next term.
“Those other materials expressly and uniformly informed voters that the amendment would apply to a legislator’s immediate next terms of office, indicating that the voters so understood and intended that meaning,” the justices wrote.
Anticipating the possibility that he might be removed from the ballot, Knopp has already endorsed Downtown Bend Business Association Executive Director Shannon Monihan to run for his seat. She’s running as a Republican.
Bend City Councilor Anthony Broadman, who is running for Knopp’s seat as a Democrat, supports the decision of the court.
“I’m really grateful to the Supreme Court for upholding the will of the voters. I think it was pretty clear what we voted on. We expect our public servants, whether they be teachers, or nurses, or firefighters or police officers, we expect a lot of them and I think it’s fair for us to expect the same out of our elected officials,” Broadman said.
Right after the decision came down, Broadman sent out a press release thanking Knopp for his service.
The senators’ lawsuit was filed against Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade, who last August said the boycotting senators were disqualified from seeking reelection. 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.
Central Oregon Daily News contributed to this report.