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Fighting Oregon Republicans

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Oregon Republicans are among the worst Republicans, which is why they can never win statewide office. Rather than have some kind of moderate position to compete with Democrats, they just go for the most extreme possible positions, which works for them in Douglas and Baker County but completely destroys them in Portland, Eugene, and Corvallis.

One of the strategies Oregon Republicans have used at the state legislature level is to just not show up for work, refuse to allow a quorum, and just destroy the legislative session. Democrats have been pretty reticent to deal with this extremism, as they so often are from a group of people deeply invested in institutions (see the Senate). But Oregon voters got sick of it and passed a ballot measure last year to crack down on absentee legislators. So far, this has not tempered Republican behavior and a showdown is coming.

Sen. Cedric Hayden planned to spend Monday morning protesting Democratic overreach outside a federal courthouse in Eugene. Sen. Daniel Bonham said last week he was in Oregon, though “not easily found.” And Sen. Lynn Findley has been freely walking the Capitol halls — even as he sometimes refuses to appear on the Senate floor.

As the 2023 Senate Republican walkout hits its sixth day, it’s clear this standoff comes with different rules than Oregonians might be used to.

In years past when Republicans left the Capitol in protest — as Senate Republicans did last week — they’d often hustle across state lines and keep their precise whereabouts a mystery. The additional distance was an attempt to ensure that the Oregon State Police could not round up enough Republicans to reach a quorum in the House or Senate, allowing the majority Democrats to pass bills.

But this year the dynamics have changed. Democrats no longer seem worried about forcing the GOP back to Salem. They are counting on a recent ballot measure to do that.

Measure 113, passed overwhelmingly by voters last year, would prevent any lawmaker with 10 or more unexcused absences this session from running for reelection. With that heavy penalty possibly hanging over absent Republicans, state troopers are off the table, according to Gov. Tina Kotek.

Hayden, the senator from rural Lane County, preached in his church on Saturday — a Biblical meditation on Jonah’s voyage to Nineveh. “I’m letting people know where I am,” he said on Monday. “I’m standing up and I’m not running.”

Findley, a Republican from Vale, declined to even leave Salem when his party began a walkout on May 3. On days he chose to boycott the Senate last week, he simply made sure he was not in the building while Democrats were conducting floor sessions.

But just because Republicans are visible doesn’t mean they’re coming back.

On Monday, the sixth day of the walkout, only Sens. Dick Anderson, R-Lincoln City, and Bill Hansell, R-Athena, were present on the chamber floor. With one of the chamber’s 17 Democrats out for health reasons, the Senate could only muster 18 members, two short of the quorum that would allow business to continue.

“It is abundantly clear that there is a concerted effort to undermine the will of the people and bring the Legislature to a halt in violation of the Constitution of the state of Oregon and the voters who put their sacred trust in our service,” Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, said in a floor session last week.

Democrats have so far banked on Republicans being forced to return in order to avoid receiving 10 unexcused absences and cutting their legislative careers short. But many GOP lawmakers say they’re willing to test the provisions voters approved with Measure 113.

Bonham has said all year he’d be willing to exceed 10 unexcused absences in order to challenge the measure in court. He told OPB last month he opposes bills codifying protections on abortion and gender-affirming care that he considers extreme.

I really don’t know what the courts will do with this law. But it is very much worth forcing the issue. Democrats are very, very slowly getting more serious about legislative processes, often with the voters ahead of the legislators themselves. So we will see and pretty soon.

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