SALEM, Ore. — The Republican-led Oregon Senate walkout continued for a 10th day Monday, setting up a test of a new constitutional amendment that would disqualify lawmakers from reelection if they reach 10 unexcused absences.
Three Oregon senators — two Republicans and one independent — are now facing those consequences for walking out on the job, and more senators could join them if the walkouts persist.
The walkouts have stalled all work in the Senate, as the Democratic majority have been unable to reach the 20-member quorum needed to conduct business.
Oregonians passed Measure 113 in November, a constitutional amendment designed to discourage walkouts by disqualifying lawmakers from reelection once they reach 10 unexcused absences. Although, Republicans said they plan to challenge that law in court.
"If they tell me that I can’t run again, I’d love to see what a court has to say about that," said Sen. Daniel Bonham, a Republican from District 26 representing The Dalles.
Bonham was one of the senators who reached the threshold of 10 unexcused absences Monday.
"I’m willing to take a stand, I’m willing to not come back to the Senate, I’m more than happy to lose my job if I can stop [HB 2002] from happening," Bonham said. "But I don't think Ballot Measure 113 as it stands will stop most of us from running for office again, and securing the seat, hopefully."
Dennis Linthicum, a Republican senator representing Klamath Falls, and Brian Boquist, an independent senator representing Polk and Yamhill counties, also reached 10 unexcused absences on Monday.
In addressing a half-empty room, Senate President Rob Wagner, a Democrat, said the senators who are continuing to not show up to session are facing the consequences of their actions.
“[Measure 113] is a clear directive from Oregonians to elected representatives to show up to work and do their constitutional duty," Wagner said.
Bonham said he’s willing to risk his future in the Senate to make a stand against House Bill 2002 — a bill on reproductive healthcare and gender-affirming care.
Specifically, Bonham said he believes parents should be notified if someone 14 or younger decides to get an abortion.
"I always knew for me personally that [HB 2002] would be something I’m willing to compromise this job for, that said I think it’s different for everybody, we’ve got 13 members who are making this stand together," he said. "I don’t think we all aligned on one thing and said that’s the thing that will keep me going."
Bonham said he believes Republicans will continue their walkouts and test Measure 113's legality.
"My expectation is at least 11 of us will hit 10 days, there may be two that we continue to have come to the floor to be a mouthpiece for the group," he told KGW.
Wagner said lawmaker walkouts cannot be accepted.
“There is still time for Senators to come back and do their job, 41 days before the end of the 2023 legislative session," Wagner said. "The work continues, committees meet, budgets are being discussed."
Bonham expressed some desire to return to work if a compromise is reached.
"I still hope we finish session, come back and pass bipartisan budgets and bipartisan bills," he said. "I think there’s still potential for that, but there are a few bills that are of great concern that I have no interest in facilitating the process to see those bills move forward."
Bonham's comments on the opposition to HB 2002 and other bills contrast with the official Republican Party line of the last week — that the walkouts are tied to an Oregon law focused on the readability of bills, despite bills sponsored by members of both parties failing the readability test.
Democrats have echoed Bonham, insisting that the walkouts have been political moves planned to stop the passage of new laws on abortion, gender-affirming care and gun safety.
Senate Republicans don’t have the numbers to vote these bills down.
KGW asked Bonham: While Republicans have insisted that Democrats 'Follow the Law' on bill readability, why shouldn't they also abide by Measure 113, which voters overwhelmingly passed in November?
"I think about what did the voters say when they said we want Measure 113 to be in place, I think they said hey stay and do the job," Bonham said. "But I also have a feeling that they believe that [doing the job] is in a bipartisan manner, that somehow minority voices are engaged with."
Meanwhile, the work is mounting.
"We have a stack of bipartisan bills lined up for second readings and third readings for votes on this floor," Wagner said.
In a statement on Monday, Oregon Senate Republicans said weekend negotiations between the parties failed to produce an agreement.
“I conveyed in discussions over the weekend that Senate Republicans will end their protest to pass substantially bipartisan budgets and bills that are lawful and constitutional and that will benefit all Oregonians,” said Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend). “Democrats are instead using their slim majority to justify moving forward with an extreme, unlawful, and unconstitutional agenda."
Democrats, through the Senate Majority Office, released a statement as well, saying Republicans failed to protect three of its members by continuing senate walkouts.
“We allowed these Senators the time and space to consider the consequences of their walkout because Oregonians in the Dalles, Klamath Falls, Polk and Yamhill counties depend on these Senators to have a voice in Salem. These Senators should be here doing their jobs and standing up for their constituents instead of violating the constitution."