A pair of Republican senators in Oregon appear to be pulling back on a bill that would have impacted two of their colleagues’ leadership roles in the state Republican party.
On Tuesday morning, Sens. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, and Bill Hansell, R-Athena, requested that a hearing on Senate Bill 865 set for the afternoon be scrapped. There is currently no plan to reschedule.
“I honored the request of the chief co-sponsors of the bill not to hear it today,” said Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee where the bill was set for a hearing.
SB 865 would have prevented elected officials at the state level — including governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, labor commissioner, state lawmaker, or supreme court or appeals court judge — from serving as an elected officer on the state central committee of a political party. Anyone breaking the law could be fined $250 per day.
The proposal was a direct result of ongoing tensions among Republicans over the roles of Sens. Dallas Heard, R-Myrtle Creek, and Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, in the Oregon GOP. In a February party meeting, Heard was elected chair of the state party. Linthicum was elected treasurer.
Some have worried the lawmakers’ role in helping steer the strategies and stances of the party might cause confusion about whether their votes in the Senate amounted to an official GOP position.
That was highlighted by a bill to ban the display of nooses in the state that passed the Senate in April. Heard, who has protested the ongoing closure of the Capitol by opposing every bill, left the chamber rather than voting. Linthicum provided the sole “no” vote.
“It made us look very racist by voting no or not showing up or not voting, and that became the lead story, instead of the fact that most of us agreed,” Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod, R-Lyons, told OPB in April.
Neither Findley nor Hansell responded to inquiries about their reason for asking to cancel the hearing. A spokesman for Senate Republicans, Dru Draper, said in an email that the caucus “wanted to move forward united” as the Legislative session enters its final six weeks.
Hansell and Findley have said they were asked to introduce the bill by local Republican groups in three counties. As recently as last week, Hansell asked the state GOP to circulate an opinion piece he wrote explaining his support for the concept.
In the piece, Hansell said the bill was “not about individuals. It’s about establishing clear ethical boundaries to which all political parties can agree.”
“As your Senator, I feel a deep responsibility to make our government as transparent and accountable to ‘We The People’ as possible,” Hansell continued. “That sometimes means doing things that some in my own party won’t like.”
Indeed, there’s been pushback to the proposal. That includes Heard, who sent an email to constituents this week arguing against the bill and asking constituents to testify.
“It is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic for the government to choose who can and cannot represent you!” the message said. “It should be up to the free citizens of Oregon to decide who their leadership shall be, not elitist politicians who think they know better than you. This step towards a Big Brother like state shatters the very principle of a democratic republic chosen BY and FOR the PEOPLE!”
State Sen. Brian Boquist, a Dallas lawmaker who switched his voter registration from Republican to Independent in January, has also called out the bill in recent mass emails.
“SB 865 is an establishment team effort by Senator Hansell of Athena, Senator Findley of Vale and the Senate Democrat Leader to destroy the Oregon Republican Party along with other minor parties opposed to the Democrat establishment,” Boquist wrote in a message Saturday, which included both email and mailing addresses for Hansell and Findley.
Testimony that had been submitted for the bill in advance of Tuesday’s planned hearing was pulled from the Legislature’s website after the event was canceled. It included a joint submission from the Oregon Progressive Party and Independent Party of Oregon, which argued the bill might infringe on party members’ First Amendment rights.