Politics

Oregon lawmakers would be able to remove the governor under a measure headed to voters

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
June 25, 2023 6:55 p.m.

Oregon’s constitution has no impeachment process for statewide elected officials. That could change next year.

A March 2023 file photo of the Oregon Senate in session at the state Capitol in Salem.

A March 2023 file photo of the Oregon Senate in session at the state Capitol in Salem.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Oregon lawmakers would gain the ability to remove the governor and other statewide elected officials, under a proposal lawmakers sent to voters on Sunday.

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House Joint Resolution 16 unanimously passed the Senate and will appear on the November 2024 ballot.

If approved, the measure would allow the House to impeach the governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state treasurer or state labor commissioner for corruption, dereliction of duty or a “felony or high crime.”

Once impeached by a two-thirds vote of the House, the Senate would hold a trial – presided over by the chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court – to consider removal. A vote of two-thirds of senators would be necessary to convict a sitting official, the same standard for a federal impeachment conviction.

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Republicans included gaining impeachment power among their priorities for this year’s legislative session. According to the website Ballotpedia, Oregon is the only state where lawmakers don’t have the power to impeach the governor.

The proposal gained steam after a scandal that forced Democratic Secretary of State Shemia Fagan to resign in May. Fagan ultimately took herself out of the job after revelations she’d done lucrative consulting work for a cannabis company. That echoed the resignation by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber, also a Democrat, in 2015 as he faced accusations of influence peddling.

While top elected officials in Oregon tend to resign amid scandal, proponents of HJR 16 say that might not always be the case.

“It is necessary for us to have this available,” said Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend. “You can get into a situation where someone decides they don’t want to leave or they want to leverage the office when they should leave. That shouldn’t happen.”

Oregon has not seen the kind of standoff that Knopp describes.

State Rep. Jami Cate, a Lebanon Republican and sponsor of the proposal, said this week it was “the ultimate just-in-case resolution… I can sincerely say I hope that it would never be used as a tool by this body.”

Impeachment is a rare step for state lawmakers to take, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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