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Oregon, the only state where the legislature can’t impeach the governor, could change next year

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There’s one state where the legislature cannot impeach the governor — Oregon. That could change on Nov. 5, 2024, when voters will decide on a constitutional amendment to empower the Oregon State Legislature to impeach and remove elected state executives, including the governor. The constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds vote in the House to impeach an elected state executive, and a two-thirds vote in the Senate to convict and remove the official from office. The House could initiate an impeachment for “malfeasance or corrupt conduct in office, willful neglect of statutory or constitutional duty or other felony or high crime.”

The constitutional amendment was introduced into the Legislature as House Joint Resolution 16 (HJR 16), and the amendment received unanimous support from Democrats and Republicans, minus absent members, in the House and Senate. Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp said, “It is necessary for us to have this available. You can get into a situation where someone decides they don’t want to leave or they want to leverage the office when they should leave. That shouldn’t happen.”

There have been 16 impeachments carried out against governors since 1862. The most recent impeachment was of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) who was impeached, convicted, and removed from office in 2009. In 2016, the Oregon State Legislature considered a constitutional amendment to impeach the governor after Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned following allegations of conflicts of interest and ethics complaints. That amendment passed the House but did not receive a vote in the Senate. Then-Senate President Peter Courtney said an impeachment amendment wasn’t needed as voters could initiate recalls against elected executives. “Oregon voters have the ultimate right of impeachment through the recall process and they aren’t shy about using it,” said Sen. Courtney.

The ballot measure is one of three that the Legislature passed on June 25. The two other measures, which voters will also decide in 2024, are a constitutional amendment and a state statute. The second constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 34, would create a commission to set certain public officials’ salaries. The state statute, House Bill 2004, would establish ranked-choice voting for federal and state offices in Oregon.

From 1985 to 2022, the Oregon State Legislature referred 114 binding measures to the ballot. Voters approved 75, or 65.8%, and rejected 39, or 34.2%. During an even-numbered year, like 2024, the Legislature referred an average of four to five measures to the ballot during the 1985-2022 period. The Legislature can refer more measures to next year’s general election ballot during the 2024 legislative session. Campaigns for citizen-initiated ballot measures have until July 5, 2024, to file signatures.

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