Senate Republican leader Tim Knopp won’t appeal disqualification

A disappointed but resigned Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp said Thursday he’s not looking to appeal an Oregon Supreme Court ruling that blocks him and nine other Republican senators from running for reelection. 

Knopp, R-Bend, spoke to reporters for half an hour Thursday afternoon following the court’s ruling. The court unanimously upheld Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade’s decision to reject campaign filings from Knopp and other senators who racked up dozens of unexcused absences during a 42-day quorum-denying walkout over bills on abortion, guns and transgender health care. A constitutional amendment approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2022 bars lawmakers with 10 or more unexcused absences from serving a subsequent term. 

“We had our day in court, we obviously lost, and I think all the legislators would do it again, if they had to do it over,” Knopp said. 

Six of the 10 disqualified senators, including Knopp, will end their terms in January 2025. Sens. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, and Bill Hansell, R-Athena, previously announced their retirements, but Knopp and Sens. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas; Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls; and Art Robinson, R-Cave Junction hoped to run again. Four other senators – Daniel Bonham of The Dalles, Cedric Hayden of Fall Creek, Kim Thatcher of Keizer and Suzanne Weber of Tillamook – were elected last year and can remain in office until January 2027.

Boquist, Linthicum and Hayden are involved in a federal lawsuit, arguing that Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, violated their First Amendment rights by marking their absences as unexcused when they were engaged in constitutionally protected protests and that Griffin-Valade compounded the harm by barring Boquist and Linthicum from the ballot. A federal judge in December rejected their request for a preliminary injunction, with an appeals court expected to issue its ruling next month, ahead of the March 12 filing deadline. 

Boquist urged fellow Republicans to join the case in an email on Thursday. Knopp said he won’t and he wished them luck. 

“Part of why we pursued the issue the way we did was to try to make sure that we had an impact and a decision before the filing deadline, which we have now,” he said. “It’s obviously not a decision we wanted, but certainly we got that decision in a timely manner and pursuing the federal legal action isn’t going to provide any relief for the ’24 election cycle.”

Most of the senators represent deep-red districts, where the winner of the Republican primary is all but assured to return to the Legislature. Experienced political figures including former House Majority Leader Mike McLane and former state Sen. Bruce Starr are running, as is Linthicum’s wife and chief of staff, Diane. 

Knopp said he and other disqualified senators have yet to decide whether they’ll try to run again after a four-year hiatus. Bonham and Hayden, in particular, are young and new to the Senate. 

“Who knows if this is a pause in public service for me and the others, or if it’s the end of a road, and a new beginning for something else,” Knopp said. 

His Bend-based district is one of the hardest for Republicans to win, with about 38,000 nonaffiliated voters, nearly 37,000 Democrats and almost 27,000 Republicans. Democrat Anthony Broadman, a Bend city councilor and attorney running for the seat, responded to Thursday’s ruling by announcing two key endorsements from former Republican elected officials Tammy Baney, a former Deschutes County commissioner and past chair of the Oregon Transportation Commission and Neil Bryan, a state senator from 1992-2000. 

“Senator Knopp has fought hard for Central Oregon,” Broadman said in a statement.. “While we did not always see eye to eye, I am grateful for his years of service on behalf of our region. With today’s decision, it’s time for new leadership in Salem on behalf of working families in Bend, Redmond, Sisters, Tumalo, Black Butte, Eagle Crest, and Deschutes County. I look forward to working with Senator Knopp over the remainder of his term to meet our challenges on public safety, housing, and growth in central Oregon.”

Knopp was first elected to the state House in 1998 and served until 2005, including a stint as majority leader in 2003. The highlight of his time in the House was sponsoring a ballot referral creating the state’s unique “kicker” tax rebate, which returns tax revenues that exceed projections to taxpayers: Knopp made his remarks Thursday feet away from a large novelty check with this year’s record $5.6 billion kicker, made out to the people of Oregon and signed “Tim.”

He returned to the Legislature in 2013, after surprising incumbent Republican Sen. Chris Telfer by filing to run at the last minute. Senate Republicans chose him to lead their caucus in the fall of 2021.

If Broadman wins in November and Republicans don’t pick up any other seats, Democrats would have the 18-member majority they need to approve new taxes or fees without Republican support. But Knopp said he wasn’t worried that central Oregon residents would add “a third progressive attorney” to their legislative delegation. Bend-area voters elected former public defender and prosecutor Jason Kropf in 2020 and renewable energy attorney Emerson Levy in 2022, ending years of Republican dominance east of the Cascades. 

“We’re not going to cede any ground anywhere to Democrats where there’s a winnable seat, and I do think that Senate District 27 is still winnable for Republicans,” Knopp said. 

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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.