On March 25, Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod and five of his Republican colleagues committed an act that some in their party felt was a betrayal: They showed up for work.
As the chamber took up a proposal to ban firearms in state buildings and pave the way for other bans, six of the Senate’s 11 Republicans showed up to the floor, ensuring that the chamber had the minimum 20 members present required to take up business.
That bill passed over lengthy and fiery Republican objections, and Girod, R-Lyons, now faces more than cries of outrage from those who believe he should have once again led a Senate walkout. He might have to defend himself against a recall.
On Monday, a Molalla resident named LaVaedra Newton filed a prospective petition to bounce Girod from the Senate seat he’s held since 2008. Newton and others say Girod abdicated his duty by not blocking the gun bill.
“In the face of an onslaught of dangerous and crippling legislation, Oregon’s Republican Senate Leader has refused to stand up to protect his constituents,” Newton wrote in a form submitted to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office. “Faced with legislation that threatens the safety and financial stability of Oregonians, Senator Fred Girod had refused to use the single tool available to defend the people who elected him. He needs to be replaced with a real leader.”
To successfully force a recall election, Newton will need to collect at least 8,922 valid signatures from voters in Girod’s district by July 6.
History suggests that will be a tall order, particularly during a pandemic and working within a district that was heavily hit by 2020′s unprecedented wildfires. In recent years, recall petitions against two state legislators — former Democratic state Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell of Astoria and Republican state Sen. Chuck Thomsen of Hood River — have come up short. So have five petitions to recall Gov. Kate Brown.
Girod on Tuesday said he was not worried about bucking the trend.
“I just stood for election — in a three way race I got 67 percent,” he said. “If they want to spend a bunch of money trying to take me out, they’re welcome to do it. I don’t think they’ll be successful.”
Rather than focus on the recall, Girod said he would work on getting relief to his fire-ravaged district, passing a new two-year budget and steering billions of dollars in new federal aid.
“The last thing I’m going to do is pay a bunch of attention to this initiative,” he said.
Newton, the chief petitioner behind the recall did not respond to inquiries about plans for circulating recall petitions. His filing says backers will not pay signature gatherers.
Newton’s petition also names Rob Taylor, a Bandon-based conservative talk radio host, as an “authorized agent” for the effort. Taylor, who lists the Oregon Firearms Federation among his sponsors, recently blasted Girod and other Republicans for showing up to the Capitol on March 25.
“Some of the Republicans seem not to want to do their job,” Taylor said on a March 29 show in which he mischaracterized some aspects of the gun bill. “It should never have gone to discussion because all of the Republican senators should have walked out.”
Taylor did not respond to a query about the recall effort.
The petition reflects a new reality for Republican lawmakers who have walked away from the Capitol repeatedly in the past two years to block legislation that was unpopular in their districts: The bar for using that tactic has been lowered in the public’s mind. Democrats hold 18 seats in the Senate, with a required quorum of 20 members.
“People now expect it for all bills that, from a Republican perspective, are seen as a bad bill,” Girod said, adding that his caucus had discussed staging a walkout on SB 554. “The problem that we had is trying to walk for three and a half months just was not doable.”
Despite that conclusion, nearly half the Senate’s 11 Republicans did not attend the session where SB 554 was debated. Senators Dallas Heard, Dennis Linthicum, Kim Thatcher and Art Robinson all were marked as absent. A fifth Republican, Thomsen, was listed as “excused.” Also granted an excused absence was Sen. Brian Boquist, who recently changed his registration from Republican to Independent and no longer caucuses with the GOP.
In an email blast, Boquist later called out the six Republicans who did attend the floor session by name, supplying their email addresses and calling on recipients to “get more active in pressuring” politicians whose positions they disagree with.
Republican senators have since reported receiving emailed threats.