Oregon senator’s fiery words test free speech limits

Nov 29, 2022, 2:12 PM | Updated: 2:30 pm

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon state senator who made veiled threats against the Oregon State Police and the Senate president said Tuesday that he’s pursuing a freedom of speech lawsuit against fellow lawmakers who sanctioned him.

The Senate Conduct Committee on Monday rescinded the 3-year-old requirement that Sen. Brian Boquist give 12 hours’ notice before coming to the Oregon State Capitol. The “interim safety measures” were ordered by the committee in 2019 to give the state police time to bolster security in Boquist’s presence.

But Boquist told The Associated Press that despite the committee’s reversal on Monday, he’s still pursuing a lawsuit against Sen. Peter Courtney — the longest serving Senate president in Oregon history — and two other Democratic lawmakers.

He said he also is seeking an order from the Oregon Supreme Court that would prevent the state police or the state attorney general from enforcing legislative branch rules.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year overturned a lower court’s decision to throw out Boquist’s lawsuit, agreeing with the senator that the safety measure appeared to violate his right to free speech as an elected official and that the 12-hour rule was retaliation for his words.

The appeals court in April sent the lawsuit against Courtney, Sen. Floyd Prozanski, co-chair of the conduct committee, and former committee member Sen. James Manning back to U.S. District Court in Eugene, Oregon.

“Lawsuit continues,” Boquist said Tuesday by email, adding that discovery, depositions and other material must be filed to the court by mid-December.

Boquist’s fiery words at the center of all this came during the 2019 legislative session, one of the most acrimonious ever. Republican lawmakers, who are in the minority, staged walkouts to prevent Democrats from reaching a quorum and freezing the Legislature’s activities.

Loggers and truckers held noisy demonstrations outside the Capitol in support of the absent Republicans and against climate change legislation that the protesters said would ruin them financially.

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown and Courtney hinted at using the Oregon State Police to compel the Republicans to return to the Capitol. Some had gone to Idaho.

On June 19, 2019, Boquist — who then was a Republican and now belongs to the Independent Party of Oregon — told Courtney: “Mr. President, if you send the state police to get me, hell’s coming to visit you personally.” Later that day, Boquist said if the state police came for him, they should “send bachelors and come heavily armed.”

Brown blasted Boquist’s behavior as “unbecoming of an elected official, and an embarrassment to the entire state of Oregon.”

“I expect the Senate to hold him accountable,” she said.

On July 8, 2019, the Senate Conduct Committee imposed the 12-hour rule on Boquist, citing his threatening statements.

Boquist suggested Monday that the Senate Conduct Committee suspend the interim safety measure “until a judicial ruling is delivered by the federal courts on this matter.” He added that be believes the committee “has zero authority.”

The committee then voted 3-1 to rescind the protective measure.

Boquist was first elected to the Legislature in 2004. He was with the Army Reserve for years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel with the special forces after an Iraq deployment, his campaign literature says. Before that, he helped run International Charter Incorporated of Oregon, or ICI, which flew logistical support missions in conflict zones around the world.

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Oregon senator’s fiery words test free speech limits