PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Amid the Oregon Senate Republican walkout, in which GOP lawmakers claim that bills introduced by Democrats are “unreadable” and are written above the required ninth grade reading level, an Oregon State University political science professor says the Senate stalemate is a “natural consequence” of the Oregon Constitution.
After the walkout began on May 3, nine Republicans senators and one Independent senator have accumulated 10 unexcused absences from floor sessions, which bars them from running for the next term under Measure 113 — passed by voters in November 2022.
“I think this is a natural consequence of the Oregon state Constitution. We’re one of four states which has a quorum of two-thirds. So, two-thirds of the Senate have to be there for legislation or for anything to go through the process. And as a result, this is a common tactic that the minority is going to use to slow legislation they don’t like,” said Oregon State University Associate Professor of Political Science Christopher Stout.
Democrats and Republicans have a history of staging walkouts in the Oregon legislature, but as Stout notes, this is the first walkout after voters passed Measure 113 to stop the minority party from stalling legislation.
“We saw this happen in 2001, in which Democrats staged a walkout to protest a redistricting plan. We saw this happen most famously, or most recently, in 2019, in 2020 around cap-and-trade legislation. Then we saw it again in 2021 around redistricting and COVID response and now in 2023. I think what makes this time unique is that it happened after the passage of [Measure] 113 which prohibits 10 or more unexcused absences,” Stout said.
The professor added, “it’ll be interesting to see what happens. Is this something where the courts are going to say [Measure] 113 is unconstitutional? Is Rob Wagner, the Senate President, going to try to make a deal with Republicans to excuse these absences as part of a negotiation? Or is it that these people who walked out, these 10 Senate Republicans, and Independent Boquist, are they not going to be eligible the next time around?”
The walkout started as the Senate was set to hear bills regarding reproductive rights and gun safety.
This includes HB 2002, which would enshrine the right to abortion and gender-affirming care in the state Constitution, and HB 2005, which would give local governments the ability to pass gun regulations, raise the age to buy most guns from 18 to 21 and ban guns without serial numbers.
Stout says the bills are likely to pass the Oregon legislature at some point in time and says Republicans may try to rally public opposition to the bills.
“I think Republicans are trying to highlight these bills as extreme in hopes this would put public pressure on Democrats to not pass these bills. I would be surprised if that actually goes through. Democrats need to be standing firm and I’m not certain that Independents dislike these bills. I think these are bills that are politically popular in the districts these representatives represent,” Stout explained.
On the national level, Stout pointed out the ways in which the Republic party is trying to appeal to its base ahead of the 2024 presidential election, with Donald Trump shaping up to be an early front-runner and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as an anticipated challenger.
“I think this early in any presidential primary, name recognition carries the date. People know who Donald Trump was, obviously he was the previous president, and Donald Trump has a really strong grasp on the Republican party,” Stout explained. “He has a lot of high-profile endorsements, which other candidates don’t have at this point in the race. He speaks to Republicans in a way that I think the party really likes and so, he’s just going to be the front-runner at this point despite all the scandals, in spite of all the recent court decisions and probably more forthcoming indictments. He’s just that candidate that I think Republicans really go for.”
Stout says the former president may be difficult to beat, and noted that DeSantis has leaned into attacking “woke” agendas — including teaching history involving people of color and his battle with Disney over its stance on LGBTQ issues.
“’Woke’ originated in the Civil Rights Movement, to the 1920s and 1930s, and it was mostly trying to push people of color and also whites to be aware of racial and other types of inequality against marginalized groups,” Stout said. “This saw a revival after 2014 when there was growth of the Black Lives Matter Movement and really by 2018-2019, this term had been co-opted by conservatives as kind of a pejorative term to describe extreme policies.”
The political science professor noted that the term has since broadened.
“Initially, it was tied to racial, gender, sexual minorities and generally around ideas of systematic discrimination. In recent years, you’ve seen that term tied to economic policies and climate change, they’ve just become a buzz word to describe any policy that is seen as too extreme,” Stout said. “The goal, I think, of the discussion of woke that Ron DeSantis is tapping into is to try to say ‘Look, I’m fighting back,’ against what he sees as extreme politics and it’s really meant to mobilize his base.”
During the race to the White House in 2024, Stout says fighting against “extreme” policies and crime will rally the Republican base.
“I think this is going to be something that is going to be a topic of discussion. Certainly, If Donald Trump is the nominee, if Ron DeSantis is the nominee, this is something that they’ve really centered their politics on. Ron DeSantis and the state have really gone after the teaching of Black history, so they had this whole dispute about AP African American history being taught in schools. And my guess is this is something that will be a central component,” Stout said. “Beyond just kind of these explicitly racial forms of outreach, there’s other things that I think Republicans will tap into, that they tapped into in 2022, particularly on crime, which has become a really racialised issue, even if it’s more implicitly racial.”
“On the other side, I think Democrats know that to win elections, they have to make sure African Americans turn out to vote. Hilary Clinton wasn’t able to do this in 2016 and Biden had real success with this in 2020. So, I anticipate, similar to Biden’s 2020 campaign, in 2024, he’s going to say, ‘Look, as president, I nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, I put forth student loan forgiveness – and this disproportionately helped people of color,’ to really try to get this base to see that he paid attention to this group of voters.”