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Oregon Supreme Court Rules 10 GOP Lawmakers Cannot Run for Reelection

The Republicans violated a constitutional amendment that forbids reelection of any lawmaker who misses 10 days of work.

The gold leaf statue on top of the Oregon State Capitol building, known as the Oregon Pioneer, is pictured in Salem, Oregon.

Oregon’s state Supreme Court has ruled that a group of Republican state legislators who participated in a six-week walkout to block and delay passage of several bills cannot run for reelection after their current terms expire.

Oregon voters passed a constitutional referendum in 2022, called Measure 113, which bars lawmakers who have accrued ten or more days of unexcused absences in a single session from being able to run for reelection. The measure passed with nearly 70 percent support from voters in the state.

The GOP lawmakers, who began their walkouts in the spring of 2023, did so to prevent a quorum to pass a number of Democratic-sponsored bills that would expand abortion access, protect gender-affirming care, reform gun laws, and address other issues. The walkouts lasted until mid-summer, and were only broken after Democratic lawmakers agreed to water down (and in some cases halt entirely) a number of their legislative priorities.

State Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade announced in August that Measure 113 would apply to ten GOP lawmakers who took part in the walkouts. Griffin-Valade said her decision “honors the voters’ intent by enforcing the measure the way it was commonly understood when Oregonians added it to our state constitution.”

Republicans appealed the order, however, stating that the complicated language of the amendment that had passed could be interpreted in a different way — to apply to the election after the one that occurs following their reelection attempt. The text of the amendment reads that lawmakers will be disqualified from running for reelection in “the term following the election after the member’s current term is completed.”

A unanimous state Supreme Court disagreed with that logic, noting that those lawmakers could feasibly make the argument that they interpret things that way, but that the state secretary of state’s interpretation was equally valid. Voters, however, who passed the amendment two years ago, had a clear explanation of how it would apply — it would forbid reelection to lawmakers in violation of the rule in the immediate election after their current term.

Ballot materials were sent to every voter in the state, including pamphlets explaining how the disqualification rule would apply to the next election for lawmakers who break the rule. Because voters were given a clear explanation of how the amendment proposal would work, and because media reports throughout the entire debate of the amendment reflected the same standards, the interpretation that should apply was the state secretary of state’s, the court concluded.

“Petitioners maintain that we cannot assume that voters read and understood the ballot title and explanatory statement. We disagree,” the court said in its opinion. “We assume that voters have familiarized themselves with the issue that is presented on the ballot, just as we assume that legislators have familiarized themselves with the bills on which they vote. The ballot title and explanatory statement are materials accessible to all voters attempting to familiarize themselves with a ballot measure.”

“Because the text is capable of supporting the secretary’s interpretation, and considering the clear import of the ballot title and explanatory statement in this case, we agree with the secretary that voters would have understood the amendment to mean that a legislator with 10 or more unexcused absences during a legislative session would be disqualified from holding legislative office during the immediate next term, rather than the term after that,” the court added.

The ruling affects the ten Republican lawmakers who broke the rule in different ways. Two of the ten had intended to resign after this election anyway; four of them were last elected in 2022, and will serve out their terms until 2027, but cannot run for reelection in 2026; and the remaining four will be barred from running for reelection later this year.

Progressive groups lauded the court’s ruling.

“These senators didn’t just walk away from their jobs, they walked away from Oregon students who rely on the Legislature to function and the thousands of Oregonians who clearly said that we expect politicians to show up and keep our state moving forward,” said Reed Scott-Schwalbach, president of the Oregon Education Association.

“This ruling upholds the intent of Oregon voters; politicians need to do their jobs or lose their jobs,” said Andrea Kennedy-Smith, the former vice president of Service Employees International Union Local 503. “They need to play by the same rules as everyone else. We appreciate the Oregon Supreme Court’s justices for taking up and resolving this frivolous legal challenge.”

Prior to the ruling, however, Republican lawmakers indicated that, if the court ruled against them, they would simply double down on blocking passage of important bills, including those protecting reproductive and LGBTQ rights, among others.

“If the court sides with us, it’s a clear victory. If it doesn’t, I think we still win because our members literally have no reason to show up,” said Senate Minority Leader Tim Kopp (R), one of the ten lawmakers affected by the ruling.

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