Sun. Jun 20th, 2021

Two Republicans in the Oregon Senate have introduced a bill aimed squarely at the political ambitions of two of their fellow Republican senators.

Senate Bill 865 would ban anyone elected to a statewide elected office, a judicial position or the state Legislature from also holding a leadership role in a state political party.

That would currently affect exactly two people in Oregon: Dallas Heard and Dennis Linthicum. Both are Republican state senators, and both were elected to leadership roles in the Oregon Republican Party in February: Heard as its chair, and Linthicum as its treasurer. Heard is from Myrtle Creek and Linthicum is from Klamath Falls, both in southern Oregon.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena and Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale. Vale and Athena are in eastern Oregon. The measure states that it was introduced at the request of the local Republican parties of three eastern Oregon counties.

Hansell and Findley released a joint statement.

“We have been contacted by our constituents both in and out of the Republican Party who are concerned about the mixing of party politics and legislative policy-making,” the statement said. “All of a sudden, certain votes are being seen as official positions of all Republicans in Oregon when they aren’t, and vice versa. There are potential conflicts of interest and ethical considerations, and we have a responsibility to ensure the integrity of the legislature is not in question.”

A legislative aide for Heard said Wednesday that the senator was not available for comment. Linthicum did not respond to a request for comment. Neither lawmaker was present for Wednesday’s Senate floor session, during which senators cast votes on a controversial gun safety bill that passed on yes votes cast solely by Democrats.

The bill to regulate party leadership is just the latest sign of division among Senate Republicans. Since the start of the session, the caucus has seen two of its members leave to become self-identified independents: Sen. Brian Boquist of Dallas and Sen. Art Robinson of Cave Junction. Boquist and Robinson continue to vote with Republicans on most bills, but neither considers himself a part of the caucus.

And while some GOP senators have chosen to walk out as an attempt to deny majority Democrats a quorum during key votes on gun bills, a half-dozen Republicans have remained each time, including caucus leader Sen. Fred Girod of Lyons. The decision to stay and vote has spurred a recall effort against Girod, even though he voted no.

The measure is also not the first example of a split between lawmakers and the Oregon Republican Party this year. After the party released a statement calling the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol a “false flag” operation, the Oregon House Republican caucus issued a statement distancing itself from the state party.

As written, Senate Bill 865 would apply to any political party. Currently, there are no elected state officials serving on the Democratic Party of Oregon’s leadership. A spokesperson for the party declined to comment.

Chris Lehman [email protected]