SALEM, Ore. -- An Oregon state senator's threats against the Senate president and the state police on the eve of a walkout by Senate Republicans in June sent a wave of fear through the Capitol.
Some who work in the marbled, domed building wept, expressing fear of returning to the job, emails obtained late Wednesday by The Associated Press show. Among protective measures that were considered: Escorting employees from their vehicles to their desks, creating secured work areas and even having state police at the dais in the Senate chamber.
Republican Sen. Brian Boquist warned on June 19 that if the state police were sent to force him to return during the walkout by GOP senators that they should "send bachelors and come heavily armed." He also told Senate President Peter Courtney that "hell is coming to visit you personally" if he sent the state police after him.
The threats by Boquist, a military veteran, deeply disturbed some people, the emails show. The messages, obtained through a public records request, were redacted to keep confidential the identities of those who expressed concerns and those who relayed them.
One email, sent on June 20, described to Jessica Knieling, the Legislature's interim human resources director, fears shared by three people. One "called me yesterday, crying and expressed concern that (name omitted) was scared to come to work." Another "was worried that Senator Boquist's behavior may escalate and that he should not be provoked." The third person said although Boquist may not act violently outside of work "he may be violent in the capitol if his behavior continues to escalate."
The emails show the extent to which Boquist's threats unnerved many, as tensions over a climate change bill pushed by Democrats were ratcheting up. The GOP senators staged a walkout on June 20, preventing the majority Democrats from voting on the bill that would have reduced greenhouse gas emissions and charged companies that exceeded emissions limits.
The walkout inspired protests at the Capitol by the Republican senators' backers. The Capitol was closed one day after a purported militia threat that never materialized. The Republicans returned on June 29 after Courtney announced Democratic senators lacked votes among their caucus to pass the climate bill. The session ended soon after.
Boquist did not respond to a request for comment on the release of the emails. Boquist is suing legislative officials and Courtney, saying he is being punished for engaging in free speech. He had previously said state police had no authority to apprehend senators.
On June 20, another person told Knieling that "a staff member was visibly distressed as a result of the comments by Sen Boquist" and was feeling unsafe at the Capitol.
In response to the emails, Knieling made several security recommendations in a June 22 message to the chiefs of staff of Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek. Her email recommended that staffers be offered an escort to and from their parking space to their workspace, that work areas be guarded by state police with the public not allowed in, and that one or more state police officers be stationed at the dais where Courtney stands.
"I would always defer to OSP guidance on the best measures to take, but would encourage we ask for more guidance in light of increasing concerns from staff," Knieling wrote.
On July 8, a Senate committee ruled that Boquist must give notice before coming to the Capitol, giving time for state troopers to beef up their presence. At the hearing, Boquist refused to be questioned by committee members.
This story has been updated to correct that Jessica Knieling is the Legislature's interim human resources director, not human rights director.
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