A month ago, eleven Republican members of the Oregon State Senate walked out of the State Capitol, denying the chamber a quorum and bringing all legislative business to a halt. At issue was a controversial cap-and-trade bill, which was eventually pulled for insufficient Democratic support. Now, one of the Oregon 11 is suing the Democratic leadership and legislative officials. Sen. Brian Boquist (R-Dallas) is challenging a $500-a-day fine imposed by the rump senate, and the requirement he provide at least 12 hours notice for showing up to work.
In a speech on the Senate floor June 19, Boquist, a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and director of an ammunition company, told Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem), “if you send the state police to get me, hell is coming to visit you personally.” He later advised the state police to “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.” In a letter to The Oregonian, Boquist elaborated, “I have been in political coup attempts. I have been held hostage overseas. I have been jailed politically overseas.”
On July 8, a bipartisan, four-member committee unanimously held that Boquist must give at least 12 hours notice, in writing, before visiting the Capitol. The state senator has been deemed a threat to public safety for his remarks, and extra state troopers are required to protect employees and the public from Boquist. Further, he must not retaliate against anyone who reports concerns about their safety. Boquist is suing in the U.S. District Court in Portland that his First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights— to free speech, freedom of assembly, and due process— were violated by the decision.
In addition, Boquist is also challenging the $500-a-day fine imposed by Senate Democrats for his and his colleagues’ walkout. He is, apparently, the first and only member of the Oregon 11 to do so, and Boquist has already paid the $3,500 sum. However, the validity of a fine levied by a legislative chamber lacking a quorum to do business might itself be on shaky legal ground. In addition, the protection from prosecution for remarks uttered on the floor of a debating chamber is a privilege extended to lawmakers throughout the free world.
If there’s one thing all legislators seem to be able to agree on— those who walked out and those who sent armed state troopers to retrieve them— the 80th Oregon Legislative Assembly was one of the ugliest in recent memory. It almost got uglier, as Governor Kate Brown threatened to call a special session for July, to “reconsider” all the legislation the super-minority successfully killed. While an extreme example, the Oregon experience reflects the political realities of the 35 other one-party states (13 Democratic, plus Oregon, 22 Republican) in place. Comparisons were not lost on the left, to when Wisconsin Republicans sent the cops after fleeing Democrats, trying to stop Governor Scott Walker’s controversial Act 10 either. Across the country, it is incumbent on the (often super-)majority to talk the political system off the ledge. The alternative only invites further escalation.