Worries over Capitol safety prompt advice to keep Republican senator out of the building

Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, discusses the walkout in his office. (Aubrey Wieber/Salem Reporter)

UPDATE: A link to the investigator’s report has been added to this report.

Legislative leaders were advised this week to ban Sen. Brian Boquist from the Capitol over his threatening language, but Boquist remains able to return to work.

The comments, threatening violence against police, garnered national media attention and strong backlash in Oregon.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, through staff, said he’s done what he can, but he only has limited direct authority over other senators. He hasn’t barred Boquist from the Capitol.

A private Portland attorney advising the Legislature outlined concerns about Boquist, a Republican from Dallas, in a two-page memo obtained by Salem Reporter.

DOCUMENT: Brian Boquist complaint letter and memo

The memo, dated Tuesday, was produced by attorney Brenda Baumgart of Portland-based Stoel Rives and was addressed to Dexter Johnson, the legislative counsel, and Jessica Knieling, interim legislative human resources director.

The Legislature now routinely hires outside attorneys to consider reports of workplace safety concerns.

“I recommend immediate measures be taken to ensure that the Capitol is free from threats of (or actual) violence and intimidation,” Baumgart said.

According to Baumgart’s letter, Boquist’s comments caused several “members and branch employees” to report fear for themselves and others working in the Capitol.

She said it was customary to not allow someone who threatens violence into the work place until the employer can ensure that employees are safe.

Repeated attempts over the past few days to reach Boquist were unsuccessful. On Saturday morning, his Capitol office was closed, and later in the day he was excused from attending the Senate sessions after renewed concerns about his conduct.

Early last week, as Senate Republicans began talking about walking out of the session to protest a carbon pricing bill, Gov. Kate Brown announced she would send state police after lawmakers to bring them back to work, requested to do so by Courtney.

On June 19, Boquist lashed out at Courtney over that act on the Senate floor.

“If you send the state police to get me, hell’s coming to visit you personally,” Boquist said.

Later that day, Boquist escalated tensions in a filmed interview with a reporter, saying if state police come looking for him, they’d better “send bachelors and come heavily armed.”

In her memo, Baumgart said she found Boquist’s threats credible. 

On June 21, Courtney called Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger, R-Grants Pass, and encouraged him to ask Boquist to voluntarily stay away from the Capitol.

The lawyer’s advice came in the following days on Thursday, Johnson, Knieling, and Courtney’s staff met with Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, to discuss attorney’s recommendation. Prozanski chairs the Senate Special Committee on Conduct, which addresses to such reports.

They considered closing off the Senate galleries, open to spectators to watch the proceedings, and then were advised by state police instead to tighten security around the chamber.

Knieling then emailed employees in the Capitol on Friday, giving them the option to stay away from work if they felt unsafe.

“In the midst of ongoing concerns, we wanted to remind and encourage all employees who have a safety concern to discuss the concern with your supervisor or Jessica Knieling,” the email read.

Meantime, Courtney directed the Senate Conduct Committee to take up the matter and it is scheduled to meet on July 8.

Reporter Aubrey Wieber: [email protected] or 503-575-1251.

Portland Tribune reporter Nick Budnick contributed to this article.

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