10 Oregon state senators may not run for re-election, according to state supreme court

Welcome to the Wednesday, February 7, Brew. 

By: Mercedes Yanora

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. 10 Oregon state senators may not run for re-election, according to state supreme court
  2. 54.79% of all state legislators in the United States are Republican, 44.44% are Democratic 
  3. 80 candidates filed for congressional and statewide offices last week

10 Oregon state senators may not run for re-election, according to state supreme court

On Feb. 1, the Oregon Supreme Court upheld Measure 113 — a 2022 ballot initiative that makes legislators ineligible for re-election to a subsequent term if they accrue 10 or more unexcused absences. As a result, 10 senators, including nine Republicans and one independent, are ineligible to run for re-election in 2024 or 2026, depending on when they are next up for re-election.

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

Oregon is one of four states requiring two-thirds of its members to be present to conduct official business — the others are Indiana, Tennessee, and Texas. Forty-five states require just a majority of members, and one, Massachusetts, requires two-fifths in the Senate and three-eighths in the House.

Oregon’s higher quorum threshold means that just one-third of legislators in either chamber can walkout of the legislature, preventing the whole body from conducting official business. Multiple walkouts took place in 2001, 2019, 2020, and 2021, lasting between two and nine days. 

The walkout that prompted the expulsions started on May 3, 2023, when 10 of 12 Republicans in the Senate did not show up (one was on approved medical leave), preventing a quorum. At the time, there were an additional 17 Democrats and one independent in the Senate. 

Minority Leader Tim Knopp (R) said his party walked out because Democrats broke chamber rules on the plain wording of bills. “When the majority of bill summaries written demand a post-graduate degree to understand what the bills do, we disenfranchise Oregonians across the state and violate the law in the process,” he said.

Majority Leader Kate Lieber (D) said Republicans walked out because of the content of the bills. “It is no coincidence that Republicans are employing these embarrassing antics as the Senate is about to vote on bills that protect reproductive health freedom and establish common sense gun safety laws,” she said

The Republican-led walkout ended 43 days later on June 15, making it the longest in Oregon’s history. 

On Aug. 8, Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade (D) announced an administrative rule meant to clarify any ambiguity over Measure 113. Republican legislators had said Measure 113 was vaguely worded and that the state’s constitution allowed them to serve another term before the measure’s penalties took effect. Griffin-Valade’s clarification said 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, five of the Republican senators filed a lawsuit challenging that rule, asking the Oregon Court of Appeals to refer the suit directly to the state supreme court. The measure’s 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 Oregon Supreme Court ruled unanimously, writing, “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.”

The seven justices on the Oregon Supreme Court are selected through nonpartisan elections, except in the case of a midterm vacancy when they are appointed by the governor. All seven justices on the Oregon Supreme Court were appointed by Democratic governors.

Following the supreme court’s ruling, Knopp 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, District 12 (I)
  • Sen. Daniel Bonham, District 26 (R)
  • Sen. Lynn Findley, District 30 (R)
  • Sen. Bill Hansell, District 29 (R)
  • Sen. Cedric Hayden, District 6 (R)
  • Sen. Dennis Linthicum, District 28 (R)
  • Sen. Tim Knopp, District 27 (R)
  • Sen. Art Robinson, District 2 (R)
  • Sen. Kim Thatcher, District 11 (R)
  • Sen. Suzanne Weber, District 16 (R)

Sens. Hansell and Findley had planned to retire, while Bonham, Hayden, Thatcher, and Weber would not have been up for re-election until 2026. Not including the district represented by an independent, the three remaining Republican districts are open for the 2024 elections, the most since at least 2010. Since then, an average of one Republican senator did not run for re-election each cycle. 

We’ve researched 12 noteworthy state legislative walkouts dating back to 1924, 10 of which were in one of the four states with a two-thirds quorum requirement. Oregon has the most noteworthy state legislative walkouts with six, followed by Texas with three, and one each in Indiana, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. Rhode Island had the longest walkout at six months in 1924.

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54.79% of all state legislators in the United States are Republican, 44.44% are Democratic 

Once per month, we publish an article recapping the partisan balance of state legislatures. Here’s our most recent update. 

At the end of January, 54.79% of all state legislators in the country were Republican, while 44.44% were Democratic. There are 7,386 state legislative seats in the country.

Republicans held a majority in 56 chambers, and Democrats held the majority in 39 chambers. Two chambers (Alaska House and Alaska Senate) were organized under multipartisan, power-sharing coalitions. Control of both the Michigan House of Representatives and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives was split.

Democrats held 852 state Senate seats and 2,430 state House seats, gaining two seats since December. Republicans held 1,112 state Senate seats and 2,935 state House seats, gaining five seats since December.

Independent or third-party legislators held 21 state House seats and four state Senate seats. There were 27 vacant state House seats and five vacant state Senate seats at the end of January.

At this time in 2022, Democrats held more state Senate seats but fewer state House seats: 861 and 2,409, respectively. Republicans held fewer seats in both chambers: 1,096 and 2,920 in state Senates and Houses, respectively. 

Democrats held more seats in state Senates (874 v. 852) and Houses (2,581 v. 2,430) at this time in 2020. Conversely, Republicans held fewer seats in state Senates (1,084 v. 1,112) and Houses (2,775 v. 2,935) at this time in 2020. 

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80 candidates filed for congressional and statewide offices last week

Eighty people declared their candidacies for congressional or statewide offices in the past week, 25 fewer than last week. All of these candidates declared before their state’s official filing deadline.

Thirty-three of those candidates are Democratic, while 45 are Republican. Two are minor-party candidates or running in nonpartisan races.

Thirty-two candidates are running for Congress, 44 for state legislatures, two for governorships, one for a lower state executive office, and one for resident commissioner of Puerto Rico.

Since the beginning of the year, we have identified 331 declared candidates for congressional and statewide offices. At this time in 2022, we had identified 120 declared candidates for 2022, 2023, and 2024 races.

An official candidate is someone who registers with a federal or state campaign finance agency before the candidate filing deadline or appears on candidate lists released by government election agencies. A declared candidate is someone who has not completed the steps to become an official candidate but who might have done one or more of the following:

  1. Appeared in candidate forums or debates
  2. Published a campaign website
  3. Published campaign social media pages
  4. Advertised online, on television, or through print
  5. Issued press releases
  6. Interviewed with media publications

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