SALEM – An Oregon state senator who once worked in the world’s hotspots as a contractor and soldier now finds himself under fire over threats he made during a Republican revolt over climate legislation.
Sen. Brian Boquist, a veteran who served in Iraq, warned Senate President Peter Courtney that if he sent the State Police to force him to return during the walkout by the minority Republicans, “hell is coming to visit you personally.”
Courtney later asked Gov. Kate Brown, a fellow Democrat, to order the state police to bring the Republicans back so the Senate could reach a quorum. When Brown did so, the senators fled the state.
Boquist said he would resist any attempt to be forced to return to the state Capitol and advised state police, in front of a TV news camera, to “send bachelors and come heavily armed.”
He now faces a hearing by colleagues over his statements.
The walkout marked Oregon’s most rancorous legislative session in memory. Demonstrators, including loggers and truckers who said they’d be financially ruined by carbon cap, protested on behalf of the absent senators. One planned session had to be canceled because of a purported militia threat.
The GOP senators returned only after Courtney said Democrats lacked the votes to pass the climate-change bill.
A Senate special committee on conduct will hold a hearing Monday over Boquist’s behavior. He has submitted several documents for the inquiry, including a U.S. Supreme Court ruling supporting a Georgia lawmaker’s First Amendment rights to free speech in the 1960s.
Boquist said in an interview with the Associated Press that state police had no authority to apprehend senators.
“The Oregon State Police … are restricted to making an arrest based on probable criminal charges,” he said, adding that all troopers could do is request lawmakers return.
As for Monday’s hearing, Boquist told AP in an email he he’s not sure what the legal purpose or intent of the proceedings are.
“I certainly see zero due process with a refusal to provide any requested public records,” he wrote.
The controversy has fueled Boquist’s reputation as a maverick.
On the last day of the legislative session last month he was the only Republican to vote for a measure aimed at providing publicly funded, affordable and comprehensive health care to all state residents.
In 2017, he bucked the National Rifle Association in co-sponsoring a bill allowing guns to be taken away from people deemed at risk of suicide or harming others. Boquist’s stepson, a Navy veteran, died by suicide in 2016.
Boquist, 60, was with the Army Reserve for years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel with the special forces after an Iraq deployment, his campaign literature says. He was first elected to the Legislature in 2004.
Before that, he helped run International Charter Incorporated of Oregon, or ICI, which flew logistical support missions in conflict zones. ICI’s first mission was in support of a peacekeeping force in Liberia in 1996 during a civil war. It was financed with $275,000 in cash that a U.S. official provided in a suitcase, Boquist said. ICI leased three Russian helicopters, flew them to Liberia from Russia aboard Antonov planes, only to see two of them shot up during a rebel offensive. Other missions followed, including in Haiti, Sierra Leone and other far-flung nations.
Eventually, the contracts dried up and Boquist had a financial dispute with a partner. He then got into providing training sites in the United States for troops about to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Republican boycott raised questions over how far officials can go to compel a return to the Capitol.
The state Constitution does not specify whether the governor, or anyone else, can order the state police to do so. Nor do the Senate rules. The documents only say that lawmakers can “compel the attendance of absent members.”
The governor told a press conference Monday that she wants something done.
“Sen. Boquist’s behavior was unbecoming of an elected official, and an embarrassment to the entire state of Oregon,” Brown said. “I expect the Senate to hold him accountable.”
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