Oregon panel may temporarily ban Republican from state Capitol

Source: By Andrew Selsky, Associated Press • Posted: Wednesday, July 10, 2019

An Oregon Senate committee is considering temporarily banning from the Capitol a Republican senator who said “hell is coming to visit you personally” to the body’s president during a standoff over a climate change bill.

An independent investigator told the committee yesterday that state Sen. Brian Boquist’s threats against state police and the Senate president created an unsafe work environment and suggested he be at least temporarily banned from the Capitol.

Boquist, a Republican from Dallas, warned on June 19 that if the state police were sent to force him to return during a walkout by GOP senators that they should “send bachelors and come heavily armed.” He also told Senate President Peter Courtney that “hell is coming to visit you personally” if he sent the state police after him, but he apologized minutes later for his comments.

State Sen. James Manning, a committee member and Democrat from the university town of Eugene, said Boquist should be either told to stay away from the Capitol until the investigation is completed and the matter resolved or be escorted by Oregon State Police.

“This is a very, very serious thing,” said Manning, one of only two African-American members of the Senate. “If I had made those comments, I would have been drug out of the Capitol, at minimum.”

State Sen. Alan Olsen, one of two Republicans on the four-member committee, defended Boquist, saying that on the Senate floor “we sometimes get heated.” But Olsen later recommended Boquist do his functions from his district office and, for the time being, not return to the Capitol, allowing for a cooling-off period.

Boquist made his threats right before Republican senators began a walkout over climate legislation last month. The GOP senators left the Capitol to deny Democrats, who control the Oregon Legislature, a quorum to begin taking action on bills in the Senate.

The Legislature completed its 2019 session on June 30, a day after Republican senators ended their boycott, which was aimed at preventing a quorum and stopping the climate change bill, which they said would harm their rural constituents. They returned after Courtney announced Democrats lacked the votes to pass it.

Boquist said in the hearing that he has filed a lawsuit against Courtney, but he gave no details. He said he wanted to see the matter attended to in a court of law.

Reading from a statement, he said he has initiated formal complaints against the Oregon Senate and federal civil authorities. The lawsuit was filed with the Marion County Circuit Court, where the Capitol is located, Boquist told a reporter in an email.

“We are on radio silence on this topic now,” he said.

He would not take questions from the committee. The hearing room was filled to capacity with spectators, many of them Boquist supporters who carried small American flags.

Brenda Baumgart, an outside attorney for the Senate, testified that while the investigation continues, the Senate should take steps to ensure it maintains an intimidation-free and safe work environment. She had said in a memo to legislative officials that the customary and best practice in such cases is to prevent the person who made threats from returning to the workplace.

Olsen said Boquist’s remarks against Courtney are protected by the Oregon Constitution because they were spoken during debate in the Senate.

The Constitution says lawmakers “shall not be subject to any civil process during the session of the Legislative Assembly, nor during the fifteen days next before the commencement thereof: Nor shall a member for words uttered in debate in either house, be questioned in any other place.”

Boquist’s comments about state troopers were made during a TV interview in his office. Boquist has said the troopers had no authority to apprehend senators.

He has submitted several documents for the inquiry, including a U.S. Supreme Court ruling supporting a Georgia lawmaker’s First Amendment rights to free speech in the 1960s.