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After three years, four months and 20 days, state Sen. Brian Boquist no longer was a threat to folks at the Oregon State Capitol.

Either that or he never was – at least not in the physical sense. Perhaps his lawsuits are.

Was this a genuine public safety case, as Democrats contended at the time? Or was it retaliation against an outspoken lawmaker from the minority party? The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, at least in part, with Boquist’s contention that his First Amendment rights were violated.

Threats of violence should be handled seriously. But the Legislature dashed down a political path instead of bringing in security experts.

Boquist is an often-quotable, sometimes cantankerous Republican-turned-Independent from rural Polk County. He works assiduously with lawmakers of any political stripe on some issues and adamantly oppose them on others. His guiding principles are his interpretation of the federal and state constitutions, not political party platform. And he is litigious, a non-lawyer who acts as his own counsel.

Practically everyone – except Boquist and the legislative folks he’s suing – might long have forgotten that the Senate Conduct Committee in July 2019 told him to give 12 hours’ notice before entering the Capitol. Supposedly, that would give Oregon State Police time to beef up security, thereby reassuring any elected officials and staff who felt threatened by Boquist’s incendiary remarks on June 19, 2019.

That mandate turned out to be a charade. State police didn’t exactly have additional troopers available. Boquist initially gave 12 hours’ notice and later said to just count on his being at the Capitol every day. Within a few weeks, authorities stopped enforcing the requirement.

Then, out of the blue, the Senate Conduct Committee scheduled a brief meeting for Nov. 28 and rescinded that requirement from July 8, 2019. However … it’s deeply uncertain whether a current committee can undo what it did in a previous Legislature. It’s no wonder that member Kathleen Taylor, D-Portland, kept saying she remained a “little bit confused” about why and what the committee was doing.

Boquist has now filed a Senate complaint against Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, for failing to disclose a conflict of interest at the meeting. Prozanski, who made the motion to rescind the committee’s 2019 action, is among the defendants in Boquist’s federal lawsuit. He co-chairs the Senate committee, but co-chair Bill Hansell, R-Athena, led the meeting.

In a different case that could upend state government if the Oregon Supreme Court takes it and ultimately agrees with him, Boquist has asked the court to enforce separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. He argues it is unconstitutional for the Legislature to use lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office, such as for defending legislators against his lawsuits, and to use Oregon State Police for security and for rounding up lawmakers absent from the Capitol.

As this Senate conduct case fizzles to an end, it again lays bare the Legislature’s inability to oversee lawmakers’ behavior without falling prey to politics. The Joint Committee on Conduct meets Friday morning, when it will receive an annual report that I did not find insightful. Meanwhile, there are complex but legitimate questions as to whether the Legislature is fully adhering to the letter of its 2019 settlement with the Bureau of Labor and Industries.

Free speech is uncomfortable. It includes the right to say and the distaste to hear repugnant thoughts. Boquist, to my mind, was undeniably intemperate when on the Senate floor he told Senate President Peter Courtney, “And [if] you send the state police to get me, Hell's coming to visit you personally." Boquist did apologize.

Relevant context for that remark includes that Courtney and Boquist share a strong Roman Catholic faith despite their oft-intense political differences. And in threatening to walk out over carbon cap-and-trade legislation, which they did, the GOP senators (including Boquist at the time) were trying to provide cover for the Democratic senators whose opposition to House Bill 2020 ultimately would kill it.

A bit later in a TV interview outside Courtney’s office, Boquist was asked about state troopers potentially being dispatched to fetch boycotting Republicans. He responded: “Well, I'm quotable, so here's the quote. This is what I told the (state police) superintendent: Send bachelors and come heavily armed. I'm not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It's just that simple."

To those of us standing or sitting nearby and hearing the context of the interview, the words did not come across as a threat. But as a newsbite later, and with political overtones, they might have to others. Oddly enough, the Legislature’s contract employment-law attorney did not interview Boquist, Courtney or state police before finding, “On their face, they constitute credible threats of violence directed at the Senate President and the Oregon State Police.”

Inadequate investigations. Contradictions. Questionable politics. Lawsuits. Legislative life goes on.

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Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at, or @DickHughes.


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