SALEM — A Republican state senator is asking the state ethics commission to weigh in on whether Oregon Gov. Kate Brown acted appropriately in calling for Monday's special session as her campaign for reelection heats up.
Lawmakers on Monday voted to extend a state tax break to certain business owners at Brown's behest, despite chatter among some that she had called the special session in a move calculated to appear pro-business ahead of her reelection bid in November.
Under Oregon's constitution, governors may convene a special session upon "extraordinary occasions."
"Needing a tax cut on small businesses to raise polling numbers for reelection is not an 'extraordinary occasion,'" wrote State Sen. Boquist, R-Dallas, in the May 18 letter, a copy of which he sent via email to the press Monday night. "Using public staff for the aforementioned purpose would, and does, raise serious questions on the adequacy of our ethics and elections laws."
He also noted that "merited or not," it was the "belief of many today" that the governor, in calling the special session that she was "furthering her reelection campaign using public resources."
The special session drew critics both on the right and the left.
That came to a head Monday, with many Republicans inside the Capitol questioning the necessity of a special session and with the Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America protesting the new tax break outside.
Several Democrats voted "no" on the proposal Monday, including State Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, who said that he didn't want to expand the tax break when the existing proposal hadn't been studied enough to know whether it was effective.
Boquist asked the commission a number of questions about the limits on a governor's use of his or her position, including whether it was permissible for the governor to use "public employees and funds to lobby for a bill in the self-proclaimed special session to support a governor's reelection."
Brown adamantly denied the allegation that the session was called for political purposes during a press conference Monday evening.
"Absolutely not," Brown said.
A spokesman for Brown deferred to those comments when the EO/Pamplin Media Group Capital Bureau inquired about Boquist's letter late Monday, which was sent to the press after the governor's press conference.
Boquist also wrote that it appears there is a loophole "large enough to drive a freight train through" in state ethics and elections laws that allows statewide elected officials — the governor, treasurer, secretary of state, attorney general and labor commissioner — to avoid state ethics requirements that other public officials must heed.
Boquist wrote that his letter was not a complaint, but a request for an advisory opinion that "will be used for further action, though undetermined, but most likely to present legislation closing loopholes that appear to exist exempting the statewide elected officials in the Executive Branch from elections and ethical standards common of others."
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