The daily Astorian. (Astoria, Or.) 1961-current, July 23, 2019, Page A4, Image 4

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THE ASTORIAN • TuESdAy, July 23, 2019
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Boquist decision leaves all unsatisfied
ne of the strangest episodes in
Oregon legislative history contin-
ues to unfold, now that Sen. Brian
Boquist, R-Dallas, must give 12 hours
notice before entering the Oregon Capitol
so security can be beefed up.
The increased Oregon State Police
presence is to reassure those lawmakers
and staff who believe Boquist threatened
violence against state
police and legislators in
remarks June 19 on the
Senate floor and later to
Those remarks, which
I’ll detail in a moment,
were controversial, con-
frontational and — In the
words of Senate Repub-
lican Leader Herman
Baertschiger Jr. — “not helpful’’ as tem-
pers flared on both sides of the aisle.
But were Boquist’s words threatening
and dangerous?
Furthermore, should politicians make
that determination? Democratic legisla-
tors, the news media and the Legislature’s
outside lawyer all referred to the remarks
as “threats,” as if that were an accepted
fact. However, on party-line votes, the
Senate Special Committee on Conduct
last week formally refused to categorize
the comments as “threats.”
The committee did impose the 12-hour
notification requirement on Boquist while
the investigation continues.
A bit of background: Boquist, whose
family has a small farm in Polk County,
is a businessman and retired Army Spe-
cial Forces officer. To say he speaks his
mind would be an understatement. He
doesn’t always hew to the veneer of
false congeniality expected of legisla-
tors during floor debates and committee
His colleagues find him difficult to
categorize. A constitutional Republican,
he has tussled with his own political party
as well as with Democrats. He works
across the aisle on major legislation, yet
he has sued the Legislature before and is
doing so again.
He might best be described as bright,
outspoken, tenacious — and possessing a
long memory.
This is not a clear-cut situation, and
it illustrates legislators’ struggles as they
strive to meld standard business prac-
tices with a highly charged, partisan envi-
ronment. In trying to make sense of what
has happened, here are three questions to
1. Did Boquist threaten Sen. Peter
Courtney and Oregon State Police?
As one of the few folks who witnessed
both incidents on June 19, I believe the
answer necessitates a deeper look at the
Boquist’s comments to Senate Presi-
dent Peter Courtney, D-Salem, occurred
during the morning floor debate about
Senate Bill 761, which limits the use of
electronic signature gathering for ballot
initiatives and referendums. The bill ulti-
mately passed both the Senate and the
House on almost party-line votes as a
few Democrats joined the Republicans in
Democrats, who hold a supermajor-
ity in each chamber, claimed the bill
would prevent signature fraud. Republi-
cans countered that the real aim was to
obstruct signature gathering for a refer-
endum on the new business activities tax.
Secretary of State Bev Clarno, a Repub-
lican, oversees elections and did not sup-
port the bill.
Last week, opponents of the business
activities tax cited SB 761 among their
reasons for dropping their referendum
Boquist has been aggressive in call-
ing out Courtney, Senate Democrats
and legislative management for actions
he considers egregious and for his per-
ceived failure to get questions answered.
His public record requests have included
Claire Withycombe/Oregon Capital Bureau
State Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, on the Senate floor.
seeking specifics on how the Legislature
paid the sexual harassment settlement
that Courtney and House Speaker Tina
Kotek, D-Portland, made through the
state Bureau of Labor and Industries.
During the 2019 Legislature, Boquist
was a prolific distributor of “floor let-
ters” to his fellow senators. The morning
of June 19, one floor letter was about the
BOLI settlement funding, another was on
pay equity in bonuses to legislative staff,
and a third was on SB 761.
What happened that morning: Senate
Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Port-
land, introduced the Democratic version
of SB 761. Boquist moved to substitute a
Republican version. On a party-line vote,
his motion failed and the Senate kept the
Democratic version.
Then came the debate on the bill.
“Once again, colleagues, let’s cut
the B.S.,” Boquist said, contending that
SB 761 was an example of Democrats’
changing the rules to achieve their aims.
He went on to say: “We are effec-
tively in the midst of a political coup. Let
me say that again. We’re effectively in
the midst of a political coup. And yes, I
understand the threats from members of
the majority that you want to arrest me,
you want to put me in jail with the state
police, and all that sort of stuff. You don’t
think we haven’t heard it directly from
thing – to do the best thing we can for the
people of the state of Oregon.
“I ask that you please remember that
when we’re talking.”
“Senator Boquist, do you want to
comment, because I’ll recognize you.”
Boquist: “Yes, Mr. President, I apolo-
gize. To you personally. Thank you.”
Courtney: “Thank you, Your Honor.”
Boquist then turned to the rest of the
Senate: “If any of you are offended, that’s
fine. I am fine with that. If any of you
would like to hear the threats that have
been personally made to me by your
members, I’d be happy to explain that
too. Thank you, Mr. President, we may
Courtney then asked senators to
remember what he had said about deco-
rum. Debate on the bill resumed.
The first reference to Boquist’s com-
ments constituting a threat came a few
minutes later from Sen. Lew Frederick,
D-Portland: “I am upset, outraged to hear
an extraordinary comment in public —
a threat against members of this cham-
ber, against a member of this body and
the body itself. … What I heard just ear-
lier was a threat, and the apology is not
enough. That is the kind of thing that we
simply cannot allow on the floor, in my
Given the tense atmosphere that morn-
ing, Courtney called a two-hour recess
“And media and the press, happy
to meet with you after noon and give
the quotes. Happy to show you in the
rules [if] one after the next have been
“Let’s not waste any time here. We’re
at the 11th hour. If you don’t think these
boots are for walking,” Boquist said,
showing his booted foot, “you’re flat
wrong, Mr. President. And [if] you send
the state police to get me, hell’s coming
to visit you personally.”
The Senate was utterly quiet for
10 seconds before Courtney somberly
responded from the dais: “I under-
stand that people are very upset right
now about a lot of things. I would like
the word ‘decorum’ to be thought about
often. I think individuals can express
their opinions in the strongest possible
terms but in a way that recognizes the
decorum of the Senate and also the indi-
viduals that we are all here together —
we are all here together to do the same
after the Senate passed SB 761. (The next
day, Republican senators would begin
their second boycott this year, depriving
the Senate of the quorum needed to con-
duct business.)
The infamous TV interview: Good to
his word, Boquist talked with reporters
that afternoon. Interviewed by Pat Doo-
ris on KGW-TV, Boquist said his com-
ments were in response to Gov. Brown’s
“threats” — if Republican senators
walked — that she would call a special
legislative session to finish the state’s
business or use the state police to retrieve
the senators.
He told Dooris: “Well, I’m quotable,
so here’s the quote. This is what I told
the (state police) superintendent: Send
bachelors and come heavily armed. I’m
not going to be a political prisoner in the
state of Oregon. It’s just that simple.”
When I overheard that discussion, I
had just finished interviewing Boquist at
length in his office. He, like many of his
Democratic colleagues, understood the
state police lacked the legal authority to
pursue legislators without a court order
first being issued. Rightly or wrongly,
I interpreted his comment to KGW as
hyperbole, a response to a hypothetical
event he knew would never happen.
No one, including rank-and-file Dem-
ocrats, would want the optics of police in
America being used to round up opposi-
tion politicians. Thus, Brown and Court-
ney’s desire to dispatch state police
remains baffling.
2. Were some legislative staff mem-
bers and lawmakers justified in being
Yes, if they thought so.
This is one of the inherent contradic-
tions in this case. Regardless of what
Boquist said, regardless of the context
and regardless of his intentions, what
matters is how individuals perceived his
If people feel endangered, it is the
Legislature’s legal duty — indeed its
ethical responsibility, which is an even
higher duty — to act appropriately
instead of brushing aside the concerns.
The speaker’s intent is irrelevant.
“This is about the effect on the recip-
ients,” lawyer Brenda Baumgart of
Stoel Rives told the Senate Conduct
Legislative leadership has a broad
range of potential responses in such sit-
uations. Again, it would be irresponsible
to simply tell people here was nothing to
worry about — even if, as I believe, that
were true in an objective sense. The com-
ments might have triggered or reawak-
ened traumatic responses for some indi-
viduals, and we outsiders have no right to
judge them.
In a June 25 memo to legislative man-
agement about the incidents, Baumgart
wrote: “Senator Boquist’s statements
are public and irrefutable. On their face,
they constitute credible threats of vio-
lence directed at the Senate President and
the Oregon State Police. These threats
of violence directly have caused Mem-
bers and Branch employees to report
concerns, including for the safety and
well-being of themselves and others and
that they have been subjected to an intim-
idating and/or hostile work environment.
Reports are that people are fearful and
scared to come to work. These reports
are credible.”
Hence the subsequent requirement
that Boquist provide advance notice of
being in the Capitol, as he has done.
Baumgart did not interview Boquist.
She said she based her conclusions on
viewing the June 19 statements, adding
that there had been other concerns about
his behavior.
As someone who is not an expert on
threat assessment or on employment law
and procedures, I was left wondering
whether context matters, and how sim-
ilarly — or dissimilarly — the political
and private workplaces should operate.
Inappropriate behavior is enabled by
an imbalance in power between individ-
uals. That is the billion-dollar question in
the Oregon Capitol as legislators strive
to create a respectful workplace and end
inappropriate behavior. In politics, those
in power want to keep it, which puts oth-
ers in a potentially subservient situation
— politically and personally. Actually
changing the Capitol culture will require
undoing that power dynamic, and I don’t
have a sense that legislators are willing to
doing so.
3. Was Boquist’s quasi-banishment
from the Oregon Capitol appropriate?
Good question, but I don’t have the
All I can say is that it might have
been the best resolution under the cir-
cumstances — a Solomonic decision that
leaves all sides unsatisfied.
dick Hughes, who writes the Capital
Chatter column, has been covering the
Oregon political scene since 1976.
Praiseworthy decision
he Clatsop County Commission’s deci-
sion to ask the Astoria district forester
to reevaluate the plan to clearcut Norriston
Heights, 70 acres near the Hug Point State
Park, is praiseworthy. Not only is there dan-
ger of erosion and landslides on portions
of the parcel, it is adjacent to a grove con-
taining the state’s largest cedar tree, and is
the watershed for local communities whose
wells are fed by runoff from the proposed
Commissioner Mark Kujala opposed
the decision, saying “I think you can have
forest management and … healthy water-
sheds” (“County commission weighs in on
timber sale,” The Astorian, July 19). The
statement is meaningless in light of the cur-
rent Oregon Forest Practices Act, which
allowed years of Oregon coastal stream
pollution, caused by logging, that ulti-
mately cost Oregon over $1 million in fed-
eral grants.
Apparently Oregon Department of For-
estry chief forester, Peter Daugherty, didn’t
get the memo about the lost grant money,
or the community uprising over water pol-
lution in Rockaway Beach, which had 90
percent of its watershed clearcut in the past
decade. In legislative committee earlier this
year, Daugherty stated that the Oregon For-
est Practices Act provided adequate water
Think twice about Commissioner Kuja-
la’s other comment that the ODF “has had
their process,” implying the process guar-
antees the environmental impact of the
Norriston Heights clearcut has been fully
vetted. Remember, ODF relies on selling
timber rights on our public lands for a sig-
nificant portion of their funding. Until that
situation is changed, how can they objec-
tively evaluate the impact of their timber
Need senior housing
salute Walt Postlewait for taking a lead in
attempting to help solve the housing cri-
sis in our beautiful area (“Apartment proj-
ect near Astoria Riverwalk lands design
approval,” The Astorian, July 11). The work-
ing families certainly need a decent and
affordable place to live.
Since he is planning the NorthPost apart-
ment complex of buildings in East Asto-
ria, would he seriously consider creating at
least one building for age 55-plus residents?
Senior citizens do not always require
assisted living. They just need a safe, quiet
and reasonably priced apartment — a one
or two bedroom, one or two bath, step-in
shower and an elevator. Currently senior
living areas are very scarce.
Often there is a two- to three-year wait
to be accepted. Time is precious at our age.