Perhaps the action taken by the Senate Special Committee on Conduct against state Sen. Brian Boquist is meant only as a placeholder until an investigation into his threats against Senate President Peter Courtney and Oregon State Police troopers is finished.
In an extraordinary session held on Monday, the four senators on the committee decided against barring Boquist from the state Capitol until the investigation is complete; that might take a couple of months. But the senators, two Democrats and two Republicans, eventually told Boquist that he can only report to the Capitol if he provides 12 hours' notice. The extra time allows officials to arrange for additional state troopers to ensure the safety of employees and the public.
When the full investigation is over, the Senate then can decide what sanctions, if any, should be taken against Boquist: It could vote to expel him, but that would require a two-thirds vote of the Senate, and no senator ever has been expelled. It could elect to censure him — essentially publicly condemning his actions — but that hasn't happened since 1971. In any event, judging by Monday's hearing, there doesn't seem to be much appetite among the committee members for taking strong action against Boquist.
So a final judgment on Boquist may well rest among the voters in his Senate District 12, a mid-valley district that includes rural portions of Benton County north and south of Corvallis. But even assuming he files for reelection in 2020, chance are he would be a heavy favorite: In his three races for the Senate, he has never drawn less than 60 percent of the vote in general elections.
As you know, Boquist is in trouble because of his reprehensible comments made just before Senate Republicans walked out of the Capitol for a second time in this year's session. Their goal was to prevent the Senate from achieving a quorum, which requires 20 of its 30 members. Without a quorum, the Senate was unable to take action on a controversial cap-and-trade carbon-reduction bill. The walkout paralyzed the Senate for more than a week, and played a major role in derailing the measure.
Before the second walkout, Gov. Kate Brown hinted that she would consider sending Oregon State Police troopers to round up Republicans if they walked out.
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Boquist didn't care for that: On the floor of the Senate on June 19, he told Senate President Courtney that "if you send the state police to get me, hell is coming to visit you personally."
Later that day, Boquist told reporters for a Portland TV station that any troopers summoned to bring him back to the Capitol needed to be "bachelors" and should "come heavily armed." Boquist has not taken back the statements, although he has apologized to Courtney.
Some of Boquist's defenders have said that his statements were meant as hyperbole and were rashly made in the heat of the moment. That may be. But it doesn't matter: These are not statements that a responsible elected official should make. And consider this: If a student at a university or school campus or a worker in a private business made similar statements on social media, they'd prompt immediate attention from authorities. They are not the sort of statements that can be blithely ignored, especially in today's world.
In fact, Brenda Baumgart, an outside lawyer hired to investigate the matter, determined that Boquist's statements “constitute credible threats of violence directed at the senate president and Oregon state police.” She also found that the threats violated the Legislature’s rule against workplace harassment. She urged the committee to ban Boquist from the Capitol until her investigation was finished, advice that the committee did not follow.
The finished investigation may change some minds, but at this point we'd be surprised if Boquist faced tough sanctions from the Senate, although we think censure is warranted. But it may fall to the voters to issue a final verdict. (mm)