Legislators reject legal advice, allow Boquist to work in Capitol
State Sen. Brian Boquist will have to alert officials before he arrives to work in the Capitol so additional state troopers can be put on duty – steps in reaction to his threatening remarks in the closing days of the legislative session.
The Senate Special Committee on Conduct on Monday also warned the Republican senator not to retaliate against anyone who reported being fearful to work in the Capitol because of his statements. He also was directed to not act out against anyone who participates in the ongoing investigation into his conduct.
Boquist represents a far reaching swath of Oregon, which stretches from the Corvallis area north to parts of Hillsboro and rural Cornelius and Forest Grove.
Committee chair Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said the committee's decision was effective immediately and doesn't need full Senate approval. Others joining Prozanski in a unanimous vote to impose the conditions were Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby; Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend and Sen. James Manning, D-Eugene.
The unusual hearing comes on the heels of two statements Boquist made June 19. He reacted to Gov. Kate Brown's announcement she would send state troopers after Republican senators threatened a walkout. They made good on their threat.
In comments on the Senate floor that day, Boquist, who maintains state police can't come on to his property to arrest him without a warrant, laid into Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem.
"If you send the state police to get me, Hell's coming to visit you personally," he said.
Shortly after, Boquist gave interviews to reporters, giving the now-infamous quote to KGW, which posted it on Twitter. If Brown sends police, Boquist said, they better "send bachelors and come heavily armed."
Attorney Brenda Baumgart of Stoel Rives, hired by the Legislature to handle workplace complaints, concluded in a recent report that Boquist's statements caused a workplace issue, concerns over safety were credible and recommended that Boquist be kept out of the building until her the investigation was completed.
She testified at the hearing Monday, saying her legal advice was in line with practices in the private sector, and would relieve the Legislature of liability if Boquist caused new issues at the Capitol.
Disciplining an elected official is different than an employee. Neither Courtney, nor the conduct committee, can fire Boquist. Courtney could limit his power by removing him from committees, but that's largely the extent of his power. The Senate as a whole can vote to expel a member with a two-thirds vote, but that has never happened. The Senate could also censure Boquist — essentially publicly condemning his actions — but that hasn't happened since 1971.
The committee voted against proposals to bar from Boquist from the Capitol or require he be escorted by police when in the building. Instead, it imposed on him a requirement to notify Senate officials 12 hours before he expected to be in the building.
Boquist declined to comment following the hearing, which quickly turned into partisan sniping as Democrats expressed more alarm over the statements and Republicans said safety concerns were overblown.
Knopp said he doesn't believe there is a safety issue.
"I share an office wall with Senator Boquist, so if anyone ought to be concerned, it should be me," he said.
Prozanski said that Boquist has been back in the building several times since the comments were made without incident.
"I believe the workplace is OK for the employees to be in," he said.
Baumgart said she is glad the legislature is reminding Boquist to not retaliate, but that people working in the building could still be fearful. Manning also made that point, saying a fellow senator texted him during the hearing to express concern.
"There are people here that have real fear," he said.
Baumgart said she didn't interview Boquist, Courtney or state troopers as part of her initial investigation.
Baumgart said she based her conclusions about Boquist's conduct on his statements, not how Boquist meant them or how they were received. A reasonable person, she said, could fear going to work in the Capitol following those statements.
She said that in private business, an executive would be placed on leave pending an investigation, and if the reports were found credible, they would be fired.
Baumgart said multiple reports about workplace safety were made by legislators and staff, some through email and some verbally. None came directly to her.
Manning said the statements, both videotaped, are clear.
"There is no other interpretation of that, no matter how hard we try to gaslight it," he said.
Boquist gave a brief statement to the committee but walked away after Prozanski asked if he would take questions.
Boquist alleged the committee hadn't followed due process. Last week, he requested from Courtney's office records showing concerns with his statements. On Friday, he sued Courtney in Marion County Circuit Court, seeking to compel disclosure of records he said hadn't been provided.
Boquist claimed in his court complaint that public records were "denied, hidden and blocked from release by Legislative Counsel" and others serving under Courtney.
"It was clear that zero due process had existed, and that very clearly a large stack of public records existed someplace," the lawsuit maintains.
Boquist said his family "received multiple death threats" after disclosure of Baumgart's initial investigation results.
"The facts of the present situation, and continued endangerment of my family and staff, merit an immediate court order directing the release of withheld public records, to establish the facts of the matter," Boquist's suit states.
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