Oregon senators with too many unexcused absences can’t run in 2024

 Anthony Macuk (KGW)

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade announced Tuesday that she intends to enforce Measure 113 and disqualify candidates who violated the measure’s rules during the 2023 session. The move is likely to draw court challenges from Republican legislators who have raised disputes about the meaning and enforceability of the measure.

Under Measure 113, state lawmakers who have 10 or more unexcused absences in a single legislative session are barred from holding office during the following term. The measure was intended as a crackdown on legislative walkouts, which Oregon Republicans have used almost every year since 2019 to stall or kill specific bills by denying Democrats the quorum needed to hold votes.

Oregon voters approved Measure 113 by a more than two-to-one margin in November 2022, making the 2023 legislative session the first test case for the constitutional amendment’s effectiveness as a deterrent — and it quickly became clear that it wasn’t going to work.

Oregon Senate Republicans launched another walkout in early May, primarily targeting Democratic bills aimed at bolstering abortion protections and tightening gun control rules. The Senate ground to a halt for six weeks before finally resuming with just a handful of days left before the June 25 deadline to end the session after Democrats and Republicans reached a deal that modified or killed some of the bills in contention.

The majority of the missing Republicans and Independents knowingly racked up far more than 10 unexcused absences during the walkout, but several of them announced that they still  planned to run for re-election in 2024, setting up a showdown over Measure 113.

The measure’s text technically disqualifies legislators from serving in the same seat in the following term, rather than banning them from appearing on the ballot, so there has been a lingering question about whether the Oregon Secretary of State would treat Measure 113 as a de facto ban on running for office.

Griffin-Valade answered that question on Tuesday, saying that her office had received legal advice on the subject from the Oregon Department of Justice.

“It is clear voters intended Measure 113 to disqualify legislators from running for reelection if they had 10 or more unexcused absences in a legislative session,” she said in a statement. “My decision honors the voters’ intent by enforcing the measure the way it was commonly understood when Oregonians added it to our state constitution.”

The ‘next term’ question

Griffin-Valade’s Tuesday news release directly addressed one of the more recent arguments that Republicans raised against Measure 113; they claimed that the measure’s wording mistakenly disqualified them from running in 2028, not 2024.

The exact wording of the measure states that 10 or more unexcused absences “shall disqualify the member from holding office as a Senator or Representative for the term following the election after the member’s current term is completed.”

The next election is in November 2024, the Republicans argued, but any Republican senator running for reelection in 2024 is currently serving a term that does not end until December 2024, which means the next “election after the member’s current term is completed” would actually be the 2028 election.

Griffin-Valade rejected that argument, saying that Oregon courts have emphasized that the text of voter-approved ballot measures must be interpreted in a way that is consistent with the intent of the voters, and that voters all understood Measure 113 to refer to the immediate next term, not the term after that.

She cited the wording of the measure’s description in the voters’ pamphlet, which said the measure disqualifies legislators “from holding term of office after the legislator’s current term ends,” as well as the ballot title that referenced the “next term in office” and many news reports from 2022 that all clearly took the same view. It was never publicly suggested that Measure 113 might refer to the term after a legislator’s next term, she said.

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Taylar Ansures is a producer and reporter for NBC5 News. Taylar is from Redding, California and went to California State University, Chico. After graduating, she joined KRCR News Channel 7 in Redding as a morning producer. She moved to Southern Oregon in 2022 to be closer to family and became KTVL News 10’s digital producer. Taylar is currently finishing her Master's Degree in Professional Creative Writing through the University of Denver. In her free time, Taylar frequents independent bookstores and explores hiking trails across Southern Oregon and Northern California.
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