Our Opinion: Hillsboro needs a new senator
We're still processing the flurry of new laws that came out of the final days of the 2019 legislative session.
Some of the legislation is truly transformative — including a statewide paid family and medical leave system that will be in effect by 2023, a ban on single-family zoning in the Portland area and about 30 other cities, and a change in sentencing guidelines for murder to reduce the number of death sentences. For good or ill, its impact will be felt for years across Oregon.
And then there's the bad behavior that marred this year's Legislative Assembly. There was plenty of it, from a veteran Northwest Portland representative calling a witness "stupid" during a committee hearing to Senate Republicans going back on an agreement not to walk out in June, thereby causing lawmakers' work to grind to a halt.
Worst of all was the bad behavior of a state senator who represents parts of Hillsboro and rural areas south of Cornelius and Forest Grove.
Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, has cultivated a reputation for being somewhat of a loose cannon. Prone to bombastic statements, Boquist has become well known for lengthy screeds he emails to colleagues, legislative staffers and reporters, rambling floor speeches, and frequent legal threats.
But when Boquist stood on the Senate floor last month and snarled at Senate President Peter Courtney, his former friend with whom he's no longer on speaking terms, that "Hell is coming to visit you personally," and when he told a KGW camera crew, with a straight face, that the Oregon State Police should "send bachelors and come heavily armed," if troopers were tasked with bringing him back to the Capitol for a vote, he crossed a line.
A Pamplin Media Group editorial called on Boquist to formally apologize. He has not.
Other Republican senators have had three weeks to condemn Boquist's remarks. They have not.
After a complaint was filed against Boquist, his response was to accuse the Legislature and staffers of "massive total incompetence ... or outright political retribution."
This has become ridiculous. Brian Boquist is unfit to hold public office in this or any other state. He should resign. And if he won't resign, the Senate should expel him.
Some partisans may cheer Boquist on for his "politically incorrect" outbursts. The obvious riposte is: How would you feel if the shoe was on the other foot? Would it be OK if a Democrat made those threats? Would it be OK if Republicans were so uncomfortable around a fellow senator that they refused to even be on the floor with him, as Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, was?
Some may claim that "Democrats started it" by invoking the idea of using the state police to compel senators to attend floor sessions. There's a twofold answer to that.
One, the state constitution explicitly allows lawmakers to compel colleagues' attendance for a vote, and state law explicitly gives them the right to ask for the state police's assistance in that.
Two, there were 10 other Republican senators who evidently did not feel the need to taunt the state police and imply that if troopers showed up at their door, they would start a firefight. Indeed, state police were directed not to use force in any form, and more than one senator went out of his way to comment on how polite and accommodating state police were during their nine-day strike.
Even though it includes parts of the generally Democrat-friendly Hillsboro and Forest Grove areas, Boquist represents a politically conservative district with about 4,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats in largely rural stretches of Washington, Yamhill and Polk counties. The district deserves principled conservative representation. There's no need for that representation to be provided by a man who threatens colleagues, state employees and law enforcement.
KGW-TV captured Boquist's comments in a June 19, 2019, interview. Read their story and watch the video.
Oregon law says that when there's a legislative vacancy, the former officeholder's political party leaders nominate members of their party to fill it, and the county commissioners for the district are obligated to name one of them to the seat.
That may disappoint opportunistic Democrats looking for a chance to poach a Republican Senate seat by forcing out a blustering buffoon before his term expires. But we admire this particular law, which helps ensure that appointed lawmakers reflect the values for which their constituents voted.
There are any number of Republicans who would be far better suited than Boquist to represent the people of Hillsboro, McMinnville, Dallas and places in between. Someone who doesn't threaten to shoot cops would do nicely.
A poetic choice to fill a vacancy would be Rep. Ron Noble, R-Carlton, a former cop himself who served as McMinnville's chief of police. A soft-spoken, thoughtful, principled representative now in his second term, Noble is temperamentally Boquist's opposite, but ideologically simpatico.
Right now, it's idle speculation as to who might serve out the remaining year and a half of Boquist's Senate term. But it shouldn't be Boquist.
This has been a trying year for our state government. There's been plenty of ink spilled over whether it was anti-democratic for Republican senators to boycott the Capitol in order to prevent votes on bills they didn't like, and whether Gov. Kate Brown and other state officials responded forcefully enough to allegations of incompetence and misconduct within the foster care system, and whether political wheeling and dealing undermined or sabotaged key legislation at Oregonians' expense.
But there's a basic standard of conduct that every public servant, elected or otherwise, should uphold. Boquist hasn't — not by a long shot.
Republicans should, belatedly, condemn and disavow Boquist's threats. Boquist should, finally, apologize. And when the senator from District 12 walks through the Capitol doors for the next legislative session, he or she should be a Republican who is not Boquist.
It's up to Boquist. And if he won't do the responsible thing, it's up to the Senate to do its duty and remove him from office.
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