Douglas County gun owner Geno Zayas isn’t happy with State Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene.
At Zayas’ Roseburg business, Geno’s Auto Repair, he put up a sign last week welcoming members of Prozanski’s District 4 to come in to sign a recall petition. District 4 covers most of North and East Douglas County, as well as parts of Eugene and South Lane County. Prozanski has served as its senator since 2003 and has been reelected three times.
Zayas said he feels the senator has been “running amok,” and it’s time to remove him.
He’s not alone.
The recall effort is backed by gun rights advocates, who object to Prozanski’s sponsorship of a new law requiring criminal background checks for private gun transfers.
Prozanski said the new law will help prevent gun violence. Recall supporters say it’s an infringement of law-abiding citizens’ right to bear arms.
Gun rights advocates initially backed the recall of four legislators who favored the law. The recall effort against Prozanski is the best funded and the only one still in progress.
The Prozanski recall campaign has received the bulk of its funding from the Oregon Firearms Federation, which has contributed $26,193 of in-kind and cash donations, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
Zayas said he’s been passionate about guns and hunting since he was a child. He believes the background-check law will only hurt law-abiding gun owners.
“Criminals will get their illegal guns on the black market, and they’re going to buy what they want,” he said. “It comes down to foolish laws that are attacking us as legal gun owners.”
Zayas’ friend Bill Girvin said he switched his party membership from Democrat to Republican the day the background-check law, then Senate Bill 941, passed.
Girvin and Zayas said they are concerned that the law would make it difficult to transfer a gun to a hunting friend or to a woman who is being intimidated and needs it for self-defense.
“It only really helps the criminal, who is always armed one way or another,” Girvin said.
The recall’s chief petitioner, Patricia Michaelson-Duffy of Cottage Grove, sent letters to about 12,000 households in Prozanski’s district.
Michaelson-Duffy said in a recent interview that she has been unhappy with Prozanski’s actions for some time.
“But his actions surrounding Senate Bill 941, the criminal background check bill, was just kind of over the top for me, and I decided I wanted to do something,” Michaelson-Duffy said.
In her letter, Michaelson-Duffy charges that the new law “bans virtually all private transfers of firearms,” and that it is “another step towards government confiscation of your guns and infringes on your constitutional right to own a firearm.”
Prozanski said Thursday the letter is inaccurate.
“It’s fairly inflammatory and misleading. In fact, some of the statements are just outright not correct,” he said.
Prozanski said the bill will make it harder for felons to obtain guns via the Internet. He also said it will give judges the power to keep guns out of the hands of people who are experiencing a mental-health crisis and might harm others.
Prozanski said he is a gun owner himself and respects the right to bear arms.
“I’ve owned guns for 45 years. I bought my first shotgun when I was 15,” he said.
Michaelson-Duffy also outlined a laundry lists of other complaints, most of which revolve around past legislation. They include Prozanski’s support for student financial aid and driver’s licenses for immigrants, his support of the failed Cover Oregon health insurance exchange and of a transportation package passed in 2009. Most of the issues pre-date Prozanski’s reelection in 2014, and some predate his 2010 reelection.
That doesn’t deter Michaelson-Duffy, who said she believes if more voters hear her message a recall vote could go against Prozanski.
“Quite honestly, and I’ve seen this as I’ve collected signatures myself, it is surprising how many people out there really don’t know what’s going on. A lot of them don’t even know who Sen. Prozanski is, which just blows me away. And so you have a lot of uninformed or ill-informed voters out there,” she said.
In her letter, Michaelson-Duffy said the recall “is our best shot at removing him from office for forcing his out-of-touch, far-left policies down our throats.”
Prozanski said recalls are intended for officeholders who have been involved in criminal conduct or misused power.
“I question the use of a recall where there’s a disagreement on a particular vote,” he said. Disagreements on the issues should be decided during regular elections, he said, and that’s “the reason for the ballot box.”
Michaelson-Duffy believes she will succeed in collecting the requisite 8,415 signatures by the Sept. 4 deadline to force a recall vote.
Michaelson-Duffy may find more fertile ground in Douglas than in Lane County, but that alone wouldn’t guarantee a successful recall. Douglas County District 4 voters supported Prozanski’s Republican opponent Cheryl Mueller by 59 to 36 percent in the November election, despite the fact that Mueller entered the race late and campaigned very little. However, about 80 percent of District 4’s voters reside in Lane County, and Prozanski garnered 64 percent of the vote there.
If the requisite signatures are gathered and verified, state elections officials will first offer Prozanski the chance to resign, and then, if he declines, they will schedule a recall election within 35 days. If Prozanski were recalled, Douglas and Lane County commissioners would select a replacement from a slate of Democrats nominated by Democratic Party officials.
The controversy illustrates the sharp party divide in Salem. The Senate Bill 941 vote split almost entirely along party lines in the Senate and House, with all Republicans in opposition and four Democrats hopping the fence to join them.
Douglas County’s Republican legislators came away from the Democrat-led 2015 session saying it was dismal and especially lamented that it was, in their view, bad for business.
Prozanski disagrees. He pointed to the Senate Democrats’ list of 2015 Session Accomplishments, which mentions legislation that helps Oregon-grown businesses expand and create jobs, invests in infrastructure and promotes growth of clean-energy businesses.
“I think it went fine. I think it was good for everyone,” he said.