Affairs of honor a thing of the past

Many Oregonians probably discovered for the first time recently that the state Constitution says anyone who is involved in fighting a duel, or even offering to fight a duel, shall be ineligible to hold public office. The clause has been part of Oregon's founding document since 1845 — 14 years before statehood — but no one has paid it much attention in recent memory.

That changed when Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, decided that voters should be asked whether they want to repeal Article II, Section 9. Constitutional amendments in Oregon require a vote of the people.

Why not, you might ask. Surely dueling as a means of resolving disputes has not enjoyed a resurgence of popularity, no matter how polarized our politics have become.

On the other hand, disagreements of the political variety have become awfully heated of late. Witness U.S. Senate Republicans' deployment of "the nuclear option" to end the use of the filibuster to delay a U.S. Supreme Court nomination. We should all be grateful that the majority and minority leaders didn't face off across the National Mall with real warheads.

So maybe it's not such a bad idea to leave that preventive provision intact. It does stem, after all, from a real historical event — the famous duel between Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804 in which Burr fatally shot Hamilton.

We're not seriously suggesting that modern-day politicians are likely to start meeting at dawn to settle disputes with "affairs of honor," as duels were called back in the day. But we do question the necessity of removing an unnecessary historical curiosity just for the sake of "cleaning up" the Oregon Constitution.

Even Boquist acknowledges there are other clauses in the Constitution that might merit some editing. He told his Senate colleagues in a hearing on his bill last week that "most of your stationery is probably in violation of the law because we have a constitutional clause as to how we can use our stationery."

Well, not exactly.

The only reference we can find to stationery in the Constitution is Article IX, Section 8, requiring that all state stationery be provided by the lowest bidder, and prohibiting state officials or lawmakers from having any financial interest in any bid or contract for providing said stationery. No rules about how it may be used.

But if there are other parts of the Constitution that need cleaning up, appoint a task force, find them all, and write one bill to put them all on the ballot at one time.

On second thought, why bother? The dueling clause isn't hurting anything by remaining in the Constitution. And lawmakers have far more pressing matters to deal with, such as a $1.6 billion shortfall in the state budget.

As long as they can resolve it without bloodshed.

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