Hillsboro-area senator criticized for 'threats' to state troopers
A Republican state senator who represents portions of Hillsboro and Cornelius has drawn national attention after he made several statements which appeared to threaten state troopers sent to find him and bring him back to the Capitol to vote on a controversial cap-and-trade bill.
Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, told reporters with KGW-TV on Wednesday, June 19 that any troopers sent to arrest him should be "bachelors and come heavily armed."
"I'm not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon," he said. "It's just that simple."
Boquist represents parts of rural Cornelius and southern Hillsboro, including neighborhoods around Hillsboro High School. Boquist's districts extends south to McMinnville and rural Corvallis.
The senator is one of 11 Senate Republicans who have been on the lam since Wednesday, leaving Democrats two senators short of enough members to vote on bills. The senators fled the Capitol ahead of a vote on a carbon reduction bill which would cap most of the state's greenhouse gas emissions. Polluters in the state would purchase "credits" to offset the greenhouse gases they emit.
Senate Republicans have said the bill will harm rural Oregonians and businesses.
On Thursday, June 20, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown authorized the State Police to locate absent senators and bring them back to the Capitol. The missing senators are being fined $500 every day they are absent.
The Constitution gives legislators the power to "compel" absent members to attend so that the Legislature can conduct its business.
The location of the missing senators is not known, but Boquist's wife told CNN her husband and others were in Idaho, but that she had no way of contacting them.
The atmosphere in the Senate has been charged for weeks. Since Republicans returned from a similar walkout in May, multiple floor sessions have been derailed by testy exchanges between senators.
During a debate on an unrelated bill the day senators left the Capitol, Boquist accused Democrats of attempting a "political coup" and told Senate President Peter Courtney that if he sends the state police after him, "Hell is coming to visit you personally."
Boquist's subsequent apology for his outburst didn't satisfy Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, who said the Senate "cannot allow" statements of that sort.
On Thursday, an emotional Courtney said that "extraordinarily dangerous" threats had been made by Republican senators.
"You can't make those statements as a state senator," he said. "You cannot threaten."
The remarks didn't shock political observers — Boquist, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the U.S. Special Forces, has a reputation for bombastic and sometimes offensive remarks — but they grabbed headlines in Oregonand nationally. Boquist is "co-vice executive president" of the International Charter Inc. of Oregon, a private military training facility.
The Rev. Chuck Currie, an outspoken supporter of Democratic causes who serves as university chaplain at Pacific University and is director of the university's Center for Peace and Spirituality, called for Boquist to resign and suggested he should face a criminal investigation.
"His comments were entirely inappropriate, perhaps illegal, and anti-democratic," Currie wrote in a letter to Courtney and Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger. "No one, least of all an elected official, should threaten law enforcement with gun violence."
The state constitution makes clear that senators can't face legal consequences for comments they make on the Senate floor. However, it doesn't provide the same privilege when they are outside the Senate chamber.
Many conservatives had a different take on Boquist's comments. Boquist was showered with support on Twitter as the video of him implying state troopers could expect a confrontation began to circulate.
Keizer resident Danielle Bethell was elected to the Salem-Keizer School Board last month, overseeing Oregon's second-largest school district. She wrote on social media that she was proud Boquist represented her, but in an interview said she didn't support the threat.
"I think what people are missing is both sides of this conversation," Bethell said.
While Boquist's statement may have sounded like a threat, Bethell believes Oregon families are threatened by cap-and-trade.
Boquist later told The Oregonian there was nothing "thinly veiled" about his statements.
"I have been in political coup attempts," he told the newspaper. "I have been held hostage overseas. I have been jailed politically overseas … Not going to be arrested as a political prisoner in Oregon period."
Boquist has said state troopers don't have the authority to compel lawmakers back to Salem, a stance the governor, and Oregon State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton have disagreed with.
"As the superintendent of the Oregon State Police, I respect Oregon's Constitution, and I am duty-bound to protect the rights described in it, just as I am duty-bound to enforce our laws irrespective of any personal or political beliefs I may have," Hampton wrote in an email to agency employees. "In this case, we will work with the governor's office and members of the Legislature to find the most expeditious way to bring this matter to a peaceful and constructive conclusion."
The Legislature must adjourn by June 30. Brown said Wednesday she plans to call a special session on July 2 if the legislature hasn't concluded its business by then.