Oregon Supreme Court will hear lawsuit from Senate Republicans who walked out

A group of Senate Republicans who want to run for re-election despite running afoul of a voter-approved law meant to curb legislative walkouts will get their day in the Oregon Supreme Court.

The court on Tuesday agreed to bypass the state appeals court and hear a challenge from five Republican senators to Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade’s ruling that they can’t run for reelection. Ten senators who participated in a six-week walkout are barred from serving another term in the Legislature under last year’s Measure 113, a constitutional amendment to block lawmakers who miss more than nine days of work from returning to the Capitol.

But the affected senators, including Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, say the new law wasn’t clearly written, and that it applies not to the next term but the one after that. For Knopp, who’s up for election in 2024,  that interpretation would mean he could serve from 2025-2029 but be barred from reelection in 2028. 

The Supreme Court’s announcement means the senators, and other politicians in their districts, should know whether they can run well ahead of the March 12 deadline to file to run for office. Knopp and five other Republicans involved in the walkout – Brian Boquist of Dallas, Lynn Findley of Vale, Bill Hansell of Athena, Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls and Art Robinson of Cave Junction – represent districts with elections in 2024.

Hansell decided before the walkout that he wouldn’t run again. Linthicum and Robinson have contingency plans in place – Linthicum’s wife and Robinson’s son filed to run in their place. Democrats have high hopes of flipping Knopp’s Bend-based district regardless of whether he’s able to run, as demographic changes and redistricting give Democrats an advantage.

Findley represents a sprawling eastern Oregon district and Boquist represents a rural district in Polk and Yamhill counties. Findley’s district is home to two ambitious Republican representatives – former House Minority Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville, and newly elected House Republican Deputy Leader Mark Owens, R-Crane – as well as other local elected Republicans who might consider a run for Senate if Findley’s disqualified. 

Knopp, Linthicum, Findley and Sens. Suzanne Weber, R-Tillamook, and Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, filed the lawsuit. Weber, Bonham and Sens. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek and Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, also had more than 10 absences but their terms aren’t up until 2027. 

The Republican senators already filed their opening brief, and the Supreme Court set a Friday deadline for the state to file its first written brief. Oral arguments are set for Dec. 14 in Salem. 

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Julia Shumway is deputy editor of Oregon Capital Chronicle and has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.