Metro Weekly

Senators Tried to Block Pro-Trans Bill. Now They Can’t Run for Re-Election.

A group of Republican state senators in Oregon have been barred from seeking re-election after launching a walkout to block a "shield law."

The Oregon Senate – Photo: Jasperdo, via Flickr

Nine Republican senators and a Republican-turned-independent who ground Oregon’s legislative session to a halt by staging a walkout will not be permitted to run for re-election. 

The ten senators staged the walkout to stop several bills from passing. The bills had been prioritized by the Democratic majority. In doing so, the Republican-led boycott denied the Senate a two-thirds quorum needed to move on with business.

The walkout was the longest in state history and the second-longest for any state legislature in the United States. 

Chief among the bills Republicans were seeking to block was a sweeping “shield law” enabling doctors to treat patients seeking out abortion-related services and gender-affirming care. The law protects medical professionals from lawsuits originating in other states where abortion or access to gender-affirming care is banned.

By preventing the Senate from convening for 43 days, the boycotting lawmakers ran afoul of Measure 113, a voter-backed constitutional amendment stating that any lawmaker with more than ten unexcused absences is disqualified from seeking re-election, according to Oregon Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade.

Oregon voters approved the constitutional amendment in 2022 by an overwhelming margin, partly due to frustration from similar boycotts and walkouts carried out by the Republican minority in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

“My decision honors the voters’ intent by enforcing the measure the way it was commonly understood when Oregonians added it to our state constitution,” Griffin-Valade said.

She noted that she had directed the Oregon Elections Division to implement an administrative rule clarifying that stance — meaning any of the ten lawmakers who attempt to run for office can be disqualified and removed from the ballot.

Senate Republicans have said they plan to challenge Griffin-Valade’s determination in court.

Oregon state senators serve four-year terms, with half of the Senate up for re-election every two years.

Two of the senators with more than ten unexcused absences were already planning not to run for re-election in 2024. Four others, who would be eligible for re-election in 2024, will be barred from running if they attempt to do so, reports Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Four others, who were first elected in 2022 and took office earlier this year, would remain in office — at the very least — until their current terms expire in January 2027.

Republicans have questioned Measure 113’s potentially vague wording, which says that the disqualification would apply to “the term following the election after the member’s current term is completed.”

The GOP senators have argued that since some members’ terms don’t expire until January 2025, those up for re-election in 2024 should technically be permitted to run for re-election — thereby allowing them to serve a total of eight years, until their terms expire in January 2029. Those senators would only be blocked from running in the 2028 election.

Similarly, the argument continues, lawmakers whose terms don’t expire until January 2027 would be allowed to run for re-election in 2026 — before the end of their term — and wouldn’t be barred from running until 2030.

Griffin-Valade rejected those arguments in a news release seeking to blunt the senators’ legal arguments. She also claimed her interpretation of the election law is consistent with that of the Oregon Department of Justice.

“The Secretary found no suggestion prior to enactment — in the voters’ pamphlet, media, or otherwise — that the measure was understood or intended to allow absent legislators to serve an additional term after accumulating too many absences, and then be disqualified the term after that,” the release from the Secretary of State’s office reads.

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