By Sarah Zimmerman / Associated Press
SALEM, Ore.— Just one day after Republicans ended a walkout that shut down the Legislature for over a week, the Senate was once again delayed Sunday — this time by Democrats demanding a Republican senator who threatened state police be barred from the floor.
The Senate was delayed more than three hours as Democrats met in closed-door meetings to press for action against Sen. Brian Boquist, who drew criticism after saying state police should “send bachelors and come heavily armed” if they try to return him to the Capitol amid a GOP walkout over climate legislation.
“We have a situation where someone threatened to kill a police officer,” said Democratic Sen. Shemia Fagan. “Where are we going to draw the line and say we’re not going to just look the other way in order to get our paperwork done?”
Lawmakers have until midnight to move through some of the biggest priorities of the session, including an increased tobacco tax and a generous paid family and medical leave program.
Sen. Sara Gelser, a Democrat from Corvallis, began the charge against Boquist on Saturday, saying that she would not appear in the chamber with him present.
Boquist declined to comment Sunday, but told The Associated Press via email Saturday night that he had not talked to Gelser. He added Gelser spoke to multiple news outlets publicly asking Republicans “to come back” during their walkout.
Republicans, who make up the minority in the Legislature, fled the Capitol June 20 and remained away for nine days to protest legislation aimed at lowering the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Democrats have an 18 to 12 majority in the Senate but need at least 20 members — and therefore at least two Republicans — present to vote on legislation.
Gov. Kate Brown deployed the Oregon State Police to track down the missing Republicans and hit them with a $500 fine for every day they missed.
Republicans returned to work Saturday after Democrats promised to table the climate proposal.
Boquist was in the building Saturday, but voluntarily remained off the floor, according to Fagan. Boquist was present Sunday and Gelser was absent from the floor. Boquist denied offers to cast votes off the floor, according to Fagan.
Gelser did not immediately return requests for comment Sunday.
Sen. Floyd Prozanski, who chairs the Senate Special Committee on Conduct, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that a formal complaint had been filed against Boquist. He said the complaint will receive a hearing in early July.
Democrats were pressing for Boquist to immediately appear in front of a special conduct hearing, according to Fagan. She said that a memo from the legislature’s retained lawyer found Boquist explicitly broke personnel rules and put public safety at risk.
Boquist said via email Saturday he was unaware of the formal complaint until seeing news reports of the situation.
Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger refused to characterize Boquist’s comments as inappropriate at a press conference earlier this week, saying his words were simply “unhelpful.”
“This member threatened to kill an Oregon state trooper,” Fagan said. “If that’s not unacceptable then what is unacceptable?”