Oregon High Court Rules – No Reelection For Some Senators
Oregon Senators Took A Stand, Now they'll Take A Seat
The political website Ballotpedia says such boycotts are a strategic move to interrupt legislative action.
The minimum number of members required to conduct official business is known as quorum. When a coordinated group of legislators—typically consisting primarily of those in the minority party—leaves the state capitol to prevent a quorum, this is called a state legislative walkout.
While most states only need half of the members in attendance to conduct business, Oregon is one of four states that requires three quarters of the members be present to form a quorum.
Walkouts are dramatic and clearly capture a lot of attention among the few tactics minority parties have to try to have a say in legislation, policy, and governance.
Political Boycotts Have A Long History
Other walkouts have made news in the past. In 2021 Texas democrats left the state for a trip to Washington, DC to disrupt the legislative process over measures they opposed. Texas Governor Greg Abbott warned:
"As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done."
In 2011 Wisconsin legislators left the state to shut down action on a budget bill until the Governor agreed to negotiations. The California legislature endured a walkout over the selection of Willie Brown as speaker.
The 10 Oregon Republicans who walked out, forcing Democrats to scale back gun control and reproductive rights legislation, can take heart that even the founder of the party, Honest "Abe", participated in the tactic. In 1839, a young Abraham Lincoln, serving as a Whig in the Illinois House, jumped out of the building in a futile bid to prevent Democrats from getting a quorum to vote on a banks bill.
Oregon's Constitution makes it pretty clear
Still, Oregon's Constitution makes it pretty clear that those elected to serve have to actually show up and serve.
"... Lawmakers who miss 10 or more legislative floor sessions without excuse will be barred“ from holding office as a Senator or Representative for the term following the election after the member’s current term is completed.
Political experts predict the ruling will decrease the number of walkouts in future legislative sessions. Others aren't so sure. Bryan Iverson, legislative director for the Oregon Senate Republicans, said, "some lawmakers might be willing to forgo reelection to kill Democratic bills they fervently oppose and that participating in a walkout could help boost the public image of lawmakers."
A Walkout Is A Tool For The Toothless
In our vantage point, it’s still an opportunity for Senate Republicans that represent mostly rural Oregon to have an influence in the legislative process, which is what our constituents send us here to do.
Washington State Democrats Have A Majority And Majority Rules
So could a well timed walkout work as a legislative tactic in Washington? Each legislative body needs only half its members to be present to have a quorum and Democrats hold control both houses of the Washington State Legislature with a 58–40 majority in the House of Representatives (59%) and a 29–20 majority in the Senate. (59%) In other words, if the Republicans walked out, the political power players wouldn't even notice and it would remain business as usual in the Democratically controlled Washington Legislature.
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