Oregon Senate Lifts Safety Restrictions on Senator Who Threatened State Police
For more than three years, Oregon state Sen. Brian Boquist has had to provide advance written notice before he visits the Capitol and every visit has meant an additional police presence.
Those restrictions, put in place in 2019 after Boquist suggested he would harm and potentially kill state troopers if they tried to bring him back to the Capitol during a Republican walkout, ended Monday with a 3-1 vote of the Senate Conduct Committee.
Committee chair Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said the Legislature has had no safety concerns related to Boquist while the rules were in effect. The Independent from Dallas missed every day of the 2022 legislative session, saying he was receiving medical treatment.
“I do not believe the interim safety measures …are needed to continue to provide a safe workplace for the legislative assembly employees and individuals who come to the capitol for work or other reasons,” Prozanski said.
The vote comes in the midst of a federal lawsuit Boquist filed against several senators, including Prozanski, alleging they violated his First Amendment rights to speech and assembly.
Boquist, who did not immediately return a phone message left with his wife Monday afternoon, told the committee that he didn’t believe it had the authority to impose restrictions in the first place, let alone remove them.
“Two wrongs do not equal a right,” he said. “If you feel compelled to do something three years, four months and 20 days later, the appropriate motion might be to suspend the interim safety measure until a judicial ruling is delivered by the federal courts on this matter.”
Sen. Dick Anderson, R-Lincoln City, voted against rescinding the safety measures after suggesting that the committee suspend rather than rescind them. Anderson did not return a phone call Monday afternoon.
Threats in 2019
Boquist, who is now a registered Independent, was a Republican in 2019 when Senate Republicans chose to flee Salem to block a vote on climate change legislation.
His first eyebrow-raising comment came in a speech on the Senate floor addressed to Senate President Peter Courtney.
“I understand the threats from members of the majority that you want to arrest me, you want to put me in jail with the state police, and all that sort of stuff … Mr. President, and if you send the state police to get me, Hell’s coming to visit you personally,” Boquist said.
He then told a Portland TV reporter that he told the Oregon State Police superintendent to send well-armed single officers to arrest him, in what many took as a threat to kill state troopers if they tried to make him return to the Capitol.
“Send bachelors and come heavily armed,” Boquist said. “I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It’s just that simple.”
In court filings, Boquist denied that those were threats and asserted that he believed he was engaged in political gamesmanship. A few weeks after his comments, the conduct committee unanimously voted to require a 12-hour written notice whenever he will be in the Capitol and that there is an additional police presence when Boquist will be in the building.
Ongoing Legal Battles
Boquist’s 2019 federal lawsuit against Courtney, Prozanski and President Pro Tempore James Manning is ongoing, with new complaints filed in early November. In their latest court filing, Boquist attorneys Vance Day and Elizabeth Jones allege that the Senate “arbitrarily and capriciously punished” Boquist for exercising his constitutional right to free speech.
The complaint also alleged that the 12-hour notice rule prevents Boquist from exercising his constitutional right to free assembly.
“The 12-hour notice rule significantly burdens (Boquist’s) freedom of assembly by preventing him from exercising authority he enjoyed by virtue of his popular election,” the complaint said. “The restriction interferes with his ability to meet on short notice with constituents, elected officials and others at the Capitol.”
Courtney, Manning and Prozanski are represented by senior attorneys in the Oregon Department of Justice, including Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. They maintain that they had good reason to take those actions against Boquist and that they should be protected from judgment because of legislative immunity.
Separately, on Nov. 15 Boquist filed a 64-page petition with the Oregon Supreme Court asking it to block Courtney and his successors from deputizing Oregon State Police or receiving legal services from the Department of Justice.
Boquist is representing himself, claiming that no lawyer would take the case because they would face retribution from the attorney general and the Oregon State Bar.
State police and private security contractors now provide security in the Capitol, which houses the Legislature and the governor’s office. Boquist objected to the increased police presence whenever he was in the Capitol, as well as police involvement in keeping the building closed for months during the Covid pandemic and investigating former Rep. Mike Nearman, a Republican who was expelled after he let rioters into the Capitol while it was closed.
Earlier this month, voters passed a constitutional amendment barring legislators with more than 10 unexcused absences from being re-elected and taking office the next term. It’s meant to prevent whatever party is in the minority from denying the senate the 20 member quorum required to move legislation by walking away from the Capitol, as they have done multiple times over the past few years.