Oregon Supreme Court upholds secretary of state’s interpretation of Measure 113 excluding 10 senators from seeking re-election after their walkout last May

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled that nine Republican state senators and one independent who participated in a legislative walkout in May 2023 could not seek re-election under Measure 113—a 2022 ballot initiative that makes legislators ineligible to be re-elected to a subsequent term if they accrue 10 or more unexcused absences.

On May 3, 2023, all but two members of the Republican Senate caucus were absent from the legislative session, preventing a quorum. The walkout ended 43 days later, on June 15, making it the longest in state history. The next-longest walkout lasted nine days in 2019.

Measure 113 was a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment approved with 68.3% of the vote. At the time of the election, the state constitution authorized legislative chambers to punish disorderly conduct, including legislative absenteeism, with a two-thirds supermajority vote. Punishment could include the expulsion of a member.

On Aug. 8, Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade (D) announced an administrative rule clarifying that any lawmaker with 10 or more unexcused absences during the 2023 session would be unable to run for re-election in 2024. On Aug. 25, Republican Sens. Bonham, Weber, Findley, Knopp, and Linthicum filed a lawsuit challenging that rule.

The senators argued that the text of the initiative implied that the penalty would not be administered until after their next term. The text says 10 unexcused absences “shall disqualify the member from holding office as a Senator or Representative for the term following the election after the member’s current term is completed.” The senators argued that since their terms expire in January the disqualification would take effect in the following election cycle.

The unanimous court ruled, “If we were required to choose between petitioners’ and the secretary’s interpretations based on the text alone, petitioners would have a strong argument that their reading is the better one. But we do not review the text in a void. We instead seek to understand how voters would have understood the text in the light of the other materials that accompanied it. And those other materials expressly and uniformly informed voters that the amendment would apply to a legislator’s immediate next terms of office, indicating that the voters so understood and intended that meaning.”

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp (R) said, “We obviously disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling. But more importantly, we are deeply disturbed by the chilling impact this decision will have to crush dissent.”

The senators excluded from re-election include:

  • Sen. Brian Boquist (I)
  • Sen. Daniel Bonham (R)
  • Sen. Lynn Findley (R)
  • Sen. Bill Hansell (R)
  • Sen. Cedric Hayden (R)
  • Sen. Dennis Linthicum (R)
  • Sen. Tim Knopp (R)
  • Sen. Art Robinson (R)
  • Sen. Kim Thatcher (R)
  • Sen. Suzanne Weber (R)

Ballotpedia tracked five other noteworthy legislative walkouts in Oregon, where legislators left the state for at least a week or received significant national media attention. The legislative walkouts occurred in 2001, 2019, 2020, and 2021.

See also:

Noteworthy state legislative walkouts