Republicans press on with walkout as fourth senator gets 10 unexcused absences

Sen. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, on Tuesday became the fourth senator to reach the threshold of 10 unexcused absences

By: - May 16, 2023 3:57 pm

Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, speaks on the Senate floor at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. The GOP-led Senate walkout reached its 11th day on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. (Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Republican senators on Tuesday showed no signs of ending their walkout as a fourth senator reached 10 unexcused absences, which disqualifies legislators from serving another term of office.

Sen. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, is now part of a growing group that includes Republican Sens. Daniel Bonham of The Dalles and Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls – and Independent Sen. Brian Boquist of Dallas.  Under Measure 113, passed by a wide majority in November, they are barred from serving another term after the next election.

The GOP-led walkout will continue to jeopardize the political futures of more senators as absences stack up unless Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, and Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, reach a compromise to end the walkout. 

Talks continue, though it’s unclear how much they have progressed.

“We’re going to continue to reach out and we have been,” Wagner told reporters on Tuesday. He said Democrats are on the job.

“The voters want us voting on important legislation. And here we are – every single day, and it’s going to continue to be that way.”

Wagner said he has talked to Gov. Tina Kotek about the walkout, but declined to elaborate.

Kotek told the Capital Chronicle on Wednesday that the walkout has not reached the point where she needs to intervene.

“I have no idea,” Kotek said when asked what her involvement would look like.

Meanwhile, budget bills that fund state prisons, schools, housing and criminal defense attorneys are piling up and cannot pass the Senate until it has the required two-thirds quorum, which is 20 members present. On Tuesday, 18 senators were present and 12 were absent. Of the dozen, 10  had unexcused absences.

Unexcused absences – and how a senator obtains them – will face scrutiny.  Hayden has filed complaints in the Senate and with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries about Wagner’s denials of his requests, alleging religious discrimination. Wagner denied Hayden’s requests for an excused absence on a Saturday to attend church and a Sunday to help his wife take care of their disabled daughter.

Wagner’s office has declined to comment on the complaints.

In an interview, Hayden said he would have filed the complaints even without Measure 113 to protect future lawmakers from discrimination.

“(Wagner) just got, in my opinion, a little excited about: ‘Well, I’ve got this tool, I’ve got this Measure 113, I can punish all these people, including Hayden,’ and have total disregard for religion,” Hayden said.

Hayden said he’s concerned about legislation that he believes infringes on parental rights, including House Bill 2002, which would allow minors to obtain abortions without parental consent, or House Bill 2395, which would let minors obtain addiction treatment without parental knowledge or consent. Hayden favors a system in place in some other states that allow judges to make a decision about addiction treatment in certain cases.

He said that bill, which is aimed at stemming opioid overdoses, has good intentions. But he said it goes “too far for me and I think it’s too far for almost every parent in the state of Oregon.”

Hayden said he’s focused on preventing what he considers to be bad policy more than any consequences he might face.

“Whatever comes out of me going over 10 (absences), I’m willing to accept,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that there won’t be court challenges to it to make sure that it is, in fact, constitutional. But at the end of the day, once those play out, I’m willing to accept it.”

Senators are likely to challenge Wagner’s denials in court. 

In a sign that Republicans are prepared for the impasse to continue for days if not longer, Knopp filed paperwork to register “Oregon’s 13 Constitutional Defense Fund,” a political action committee to support and raise awareness about senators participating in the walkout. The walkout started May 3.

Thirteen senators have participated in the walkout so far, all Republicans except for Boquist.

The political action committee is waiting on legal advice about  what services the group could fund, said Bryan Iverson, the committee’s director.

“Ultimately, we’d love to be able to raise enough money to defend those senators,” Iverson told the Capital Chronicle.

He said the group plans to pay for outreach and educational work to raise public awareness about the concerns of senators participating in the walkout.

Republican senators have said they are concerned because bill summaries aren’t written to align with  a state law that requires they have an eighth-grade reading level. At the same time, they also have said they need bills set aside that they oppose, including House Bill 2002, which shores up abortion access and gender-affirming care.

Democratic Senate leaders have said they will not withdraw the legislation.

Republicans also lashed out at Democrats on another front. Knopp released a statement about a proposal he’s working on that would limit cash contributions to campaigns to $100 following a Willamette Week article about politicians, including Wagner, who have received large cash contributions from La Mota, a troubled cannabis dispensary chain.

“While it may be technically legal, I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Knopp said in a statement. “It shows a severe lack of judgment to be taking large quantities of cash from owners of a company that is clearly troubled.”

Alex Baumhardt contributed to this report.

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Ben Botkin
Ben Botkin

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. Ben Botkin has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report. Botkin has won multiple journalism awards for his investigative and enterprise reporting, including on education, state budgets and criminal justice.