Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, on Senate floor on the final day of the 2019 legislative session. (Claire Withycombe/Oregon Capital Bureau)
Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, is taking his fight against the Legislature to federal court.
Boquist sued Senate President Peter Courtney, two other senators and several legislative staff members in U.S. District Court in Portland on Friday.
In the lawsuit, Boquist accuses Courtney of overseeing a calculated attempt to silence him and cover up corruption. It’s the latest step in a nearly year-long battle Boquist has publicly waged against Courtney over a perceived abuse of power.
On July 8, the bipartisan Senate Special Committee on Conduct held a hearing to address Boquist’s public statements, perceived by many as threatening. The committee unanimously decided Boquist would have to give 12-hour notice before entering the Capitol so the Oregon State Police could bolster its presence while he’s in the building.
Boquist is suing two of the members of the committee — Senate Democrats James Manning and Floyd Prozanski — but not the Republican members who voted with them. He’s seeking a judge’s orders to undo that decision, among other things.
Boquist is traveling and did not return multiple requests for comment.
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The battle between Courtney and Boquist got national attention this June when Senate Republicans threatened to leave the Capitol to deny the Senate a quorum, stopping a vote on environmental policy. Gov. Kate Brown said she would use constitutional authority to send state police to round the Republicans up and bring them back.
In response to that threat, Boquist told Courtney, “If you send the state police to get me, Hell’s coming to visit you personally.” Later that day, he told a KGW reporter that police come to get him they’d better “send bachelors and come heavily armed. I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It’s just that simple.”
The next day, Republicans fled and the police were sent after them, though they found no Senators. All eventually left the state.
Those comments resulted in an outside attorney recommending Boquist not be allowed in the building. That was the topic of the July 8 hearing, where lawmakers considered ordering Boquist to work from a district office or to acknowledge his comments as threatening. Those motions failed, but in the end, Prozanski, Manning, Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby and Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, agreed on the advance notice policy.
An investigation into informal workplace safety complaints regarding Boquist’s comments is ongoing, and the senator was formally told he cannot retaliate against anyone who cooperates with that investigation.
Boquist and Courtney were once cordial, if not outright friendly. When Courtney was second-guessing another year at the Senate’s helm in 2018, it was Boquist who convinced him to stay on as leader.
The lawsuit appears to be written by Boquist, as court records show no lawyers are yet involved in the case and the suit only includes Boquist’s information, including his personal address and email account. The lengthy document matches the writing style seen in Boquist’s frequent newsletters.
Uncharacteristically for a lawsuit, Boquist writes in detail about the complicated relationship he had with Courtney, whether it was going to the same Salem Catholic church, or meeting at Ike Box near weekly for coffee.
Boquist uses Catholic tenets followed by both to cast condemnation on Courtney for trying to silence him, saying in the lawsuit that “Courtney’s soul is completely lost now.”
In addition to sending the police to get the missing Senators, Courtney also led a charge to fine all 11 $500 for each day they were missing. Before any bills were sent out, Boquist publicly stated he paid $3,500 to the legislature so he could have standing in court to challenge the order.
A spokeswoman for Courtney declined to comment on whether any other senators have paid their fines, or if bills have been sent out. Courtney also declined to comment on the litigation.
In the lawsuit, Boquist challenges the fines, challenges being blocked from freely entering the Capitol building, asks to be able to speak freely on the Senate floor and for attorney fees. He also seeks a judicial ruling to find that lawmakers cannot be arrested for fleeing the building.
“The use of power by the police state to seize political prisoners (is) reminiscent of fascist Germany and Italy, and communist Soviet Union,” the lawsuit states.
Reporter Aubrey Wieber: [email protected] or 503-575-1251.
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