This time around, Oregon’s Republican lawmakers are boycotting in plain sight

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
May 8, 2023 10:21 p.m.

In past years, many Republicans would leave the state during walkouts. This year some aren’t even leaving Salem.

Sen. Cedric Hayden planned to spend Monday morning protesting Democratic overreach outside a federal courthouse in Eugene. Sen. Daniel Bonham said last week he was in Oregon, though “not easily found.” And Sen. Lynn Findley has been freely walking the Capitol halls — even as he sometimes refuses to appear on the Senate floor.

As the 2023 Senate Republican walkout hits its sixth day, it’s clear this standoff comes with different rules than Oregonians might be used to.


In years past when Republicans left the Capitol in protest — as Senate Republicans did last week — they’d often hustle across state lines and keep their precise whereabouts a mystery. The additional distance was an attempt to ensure that the Oregon State Police could not round up enough Republicans to reach a quorum in the House or Senate, allowing the majority Democrats to pass bills.

A lawmaker speaks at a microphone in the Oregon state Capitol, with balcony seating visible above him.

State Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, is participating in a boycott of the Senate with other Republicans. Despite that, he's continued to work out of his Capitol office, something that would have been unheard of in past walkouts.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

But this year the dynamics have changed. Democrats no longer seem worried about forcing the GOP back to Salem. They are counting on a recent ballot measure to do that.

Measure 113, passed overwhelmingly by voters last year, would prevent any lawmaker with 10 or more unexcused absences this session from running for reelection. With that heavy penalty possibly hanging over absent Republicans, state troopers are off the table, according to Gov. Tina Kotek.

Hayden, the senator from rural Lane County, preached in his church on Saturday — a Biblical meditation on Jonah’s voyage to Nineveh. “I’m letting people know where I am,” he said on Monday. “I’m standing up and I’m not running.”

Findley, a Republican from Vale, declined to even leave Salem when his party began a walkout on May 3. On days he chose to boycott the Senate last week, he simply made sure he was not in the building while Democrats were conducting floor sessions.

But just because Republicans are visible doesn’t mean they’re coming back.

On Monday, the sixth day of the walkout, only Sens. Dick Anderson, R-Lincoln City, and Bill Hansell, R-Athena, were present on the chamber floor. With one of the chamber’s 17 Democrats out for health reasons, the Senate could only muster 18 members, two short of the quorum that would allow business to continue.

“It is abundantly clear that there is a concerted effort to undermine the will of the people and bring the Legislature to a halt in violation of the Constitution of the state of Oregon and the voters who put their sacred trust in our service,” Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, said in a floor session last week.

Democrats have so far banked on Republicans being forced to return in order to avoid receiving 10 unexcused absences and cutting their legislative careers short. But many GOP lawmakers say they’re willing to test the provisions voters approved with Measure 113.

Bonham has said all year he’d be willing to exceed 10 unexcused absences in order to challenge the measure in court. He told OPB last month he opposes bills codifying protections on abortion and gender-affirming care that he considers extreme.

Hayden is concerned about a package of policies expanding access to the opioid reversal drug naloxone, which he believes harmfully allows parents to be kept in the dark if their children receive addiction treatment. “Until negotiations happen, if they do happen, I don’t intend to be in the building,” he said.

Findley, like other Republicans, said last week he believes that Democrats are not following a legal requirement that summaries of bills be written at an 8th-grade reading level. Republicans have said they only recently discovered that requirement, and have accused Democrats of attempting to pass bills illegally now that the obscure 1979 provision has been unearthed. Democrats, meanwhile, say they are on firm legal footing.


“I have to look myself in the mirror every day, and I’m not gonna violate my oath of office” by approving bills that aren’t legal, Findley said. “If that means that in September when it comes time to file for reelection that I’m deemed ineligible, I guess I won’t run for reelection.”

Then there’s state Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, who’d already announced in March that he will not seek another term.

“I’m a little different,” Hansell said on Monday as he attended a fruitless Senate floor session. “I could have 100 [unexcused absences].”

The conflict might come to a head on Friday. While some Republicans have been excused at times since the walkout began, four lawmakers — Brian Boquist, Dennis Linthicum, Hayden and Bonham — would reach 10 unexcused absences on May 12 if nothing changes.

Wagner announced last week he would cease excusing absences in the Senate not connected with long-term medical leave or an “extraordinary circumstance” — including some he had previously approved. Hansell said he learned on Friday, while in San Diego to attend his granddaughter’s graduation, that he no longer had permission to be absent.

As of Monday morning, signs of progress were hard to find, and the list of legislation that Republicans point to as extreme appeared to be growing.

The Oregon House of Representatives convene at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, March 20, 2023.

The Oregon House of Representatives convene at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, March 20, 2023.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, told the Oregon Capitol Chronicle this weekend his party has “about 20″ bills it’s protesting, alongside their insistence that the chamber has been ignoring rules that bill summaries be easy to understand. Knopp did not send OPB the list of bills he had in mind.

“It’s clear Rob Wagner has no intention of negotiating and that is the point of a walkout, you have to negotiate,” Knopp said in an interview on Monday. “And the first thing we have to negotiate is that you follow the law.”

Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, D-Portland, told reporters on Monday that invitations are “in the works” for a sitdown with Republicans. But Lieber and other top Democrats have insisted that the party would not give up key parts of its agenda — including bills expanding abortion protections and gun restrictions — and Lieber said on Monday it feels like the Senate is being held hostage.

“My caucus is adamant about not watering down Democratic priorities,” Lieber said, adding that she wanted to see a rundown of the bills Republicans are protesting. “I’m not going to put a list together that I feel like they might want. We’re not going to negotiate against ourselves.”

Democrats in 2019 bristled when then-Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, agreed to give up bills on vaccine mandates and gun regulations in order to get Republicans back in the building.

Republicans have demanded that two bills they take exception to — House Bills 2002 and 2005 — receive additional hearings in the state Senate. Lieber and other Democrats have dismissed those demands as gamesmanship, but the majority leader said on Monday that “everything is on the table.”

Lieber also said she had made overtures to Knopp and other Republicans. That is partly necessary because Knopp and Wagner, the brand-new Democratic Senate president, have not spoken in weeks.

“The meetings with Wagner, even when we had them, were a complete waste of time because he was just using those to tell everyone else ‘Oh, it’s bipartisan. Everything is fine,’” Knopp said on Monday. “I just got tired of being used by him,.”

Wagner suggested in a floor speech on Friday he’s hoping the chilly relations end.

“I can be here at the Capitol every single day,” he said, addressing senators both present and absent. “I will clear my calendar for you.”

Lauren Dake contributed to this report.