SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Just one day after Republicans ended a walkout that shut down the Legislature for over a week, the Senate was once again delayed Sunday — this time by Democrats demanding that a Republican senator who threatened state police be barred from the floor.
Voting in the Senate was pushed back more than three hours as Democrats met in closed-door meetings to press for action against Sen. Brian Boquist, who drew criticism after saying state police should “send bachelors and come heavily armed” if they try to return him to the Capitol amid a GOP walkout over climate legislation.
But Democrats’ efforts proved futile. Boquist was able to appear on the Senate floor Sunday morning to vote on some of the remaining policy bills before the Senate, including legislative priorities addressing affordable housing and a paid family leave program. He left the building later in the afternoon and was absent when the Legislature adjourned for the year, according to the Senate president.
“This member threatened to kill an Oregon state trooper,” said Democratic Sen. Shemia Fagan, from Portland. “If that’s not unacceptable, then what is unacceptable?”
Sen. Sara Gelser, a Democrat from Corvallis, began the charge against Boquist on Saturday, saying that she would not appear in the chamber with him present. Gelser was absent Sunday morning, but she appeared later in the afternoon after Boquist left the building.
Gelser said that she was disappointed Senate leadership didn’t take action on a memo from an outside law firm retained by the Legislature. The memo, released to the public Sunday, recommended that Boquist be barred from the workplace until his comments could be investigated. Several staff members reported that they were “fearful and scared to come to work,” according to the memo.
Only the full Senate can take action against one of its members, according to a separate memo from the state’s interim human resources director.
But politics trumped safety concerns, said Gelser, and leadership was more focused on pushing through the remaining policy bills before the legislative session was set to end at midnight.
“There has to be a point at which we are willing to … have a rocky floor session if that’s what it takes to make things better,” she said. “People deserve to be safe.”
Boquist, from Dallas, declined to comment Sunday. But he told The Associated Press via email Saturday night that he had not talked to Gelser. He added Gelser previously spoke to multiple news outlets publicly asking Republicans “to come back” during their walkout.
Republicans, who make up the minority in the Legislature, fled the Capitol June 20 and remained away for nine days to protest legislation aimed at lowering the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Democrats have an 18 to 12 majority in the Senate but need at least 20 members — and therefore at least two Republicans — present to vote on legislation.
Gov. Kate Brown deployed the Oregon State Police to track down the missing Republicans and hit them with a $500 fine for every day they missed.
Republicans returned to work Saturday after Democrats promised to table the climate proposal.
A formal complaint had been filed against Boquist, which will be heard at a special committee meeting in July, according to Fagan.
Boquist said via email Saturday that he was unaware of the formal complaint until seeing news reports of the situation.
Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger refused to characterize Boquist’s comments as inappropriate at a news conference earlier this week, saying his words were simply “unhelpful.”
Gelser said the situation shows that the Legislature had learned little from a sexual harassment that embroiled the Capitol last year. Republican Sen. Jeff Kruse resigned from the Legislature last year after Gelser and two interns accused the lawmaker of inappropriate touching. The state agreed to a $1 million settlement after an outside report found legislative leadership did little to curb workplace harassment in the statehouse. Lawmakers also worked for six months to craft a legislative package meant to overhaul the way the Capitol handles reports of harassment, and that plan was sent to the governor over the weekend.
“Despite all that, I’m told today we do not have the tools to keep people safe if somebody makes credible threats of violence,” Gelser said. “And that’s just unacceptable.”