Peter Courtney will serve a record 10th term as Senate President in the 2021 legislative session, but Tina Kotek will face a House floor challenge in her quest to serve a fifth term as Speaker.
Meanwhile, Kotek is calling for a special session later this year to distribute $100 million in financial relief to needy Oregonians and Oregon businesses after the quarterly economic report released yesterday projects state tax revenue will grow by $200 million despite pandemic impacts. Governor Brown previously recommended distributing $55 million in aid.
Democrats, who continue to control both the House and Senate, caucused to select their leadership teams. Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, who was elected to a third term, announced her intent to challenge Kotek for Speaker of the House in a floor vote battle at the beginning of the 2021 session.
Bynum, one of two Black women in the legislature, told OPB before the caucus, “People of color are often told to wait, are brushed aside or made to feel that we don’t pass a particular litmus test. It should not be lost on us that no person of color has ever had their name spoken on the floor of the House in the election for Speaker.”
House Democrats who have heard Bynum’s pitch for Speaker say she made a “compelling case”, though she may lack enough votes in the 37-member Democratic caucus to unseat Kotek. However, her existing support among her caucus, if combined with 23 House Republican votes, would create a pathway on the House floor vote for victory. Republicans, who have chafed under Kotek’s leadership, might view this an opportunity to gain political leverage despite their “super-minority” status.
“People of color are often told to wait, are brushed aside or made to feel that we don’t pass a particular litmus test. It should not be lost on us that no person of color has ever had their name spoken on the floor of the House in the election for Speaker.”
Privately supporting a challenger to a sitting Speaker isn’t the same as casting a very public vote on the House floor. Committee chairmanships could be at stake for lawmakers, as well as disdain from other members of the Democratic caucus that could jeopardize their legislative priorities.
Another factor in the calculus of challenging Kotek is her close relationship with Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, who has provided the Speaker with a key vote more than once has been able to leverage that support with priority infrastructure and economic development projects in his Eastern Oregon House district.
Other House and Senate leadership positions were decided without any apparent drama. Senator James Manning, D-Eugene, one of two Black senators who worked closely with Bynum on police reforms in this year’s special sessions, will become Senate Pro Tempore, the officer who presides when Senate President Courtney steps away.
Senate Republicans re-elected Fred Girod, R-Lyons, as Senate Minority Leader and House Republicans retained Rep. Christine Drazan, R-Canby, as House Minority Leader.
Here are the teams in both chambers:
- Speaker of the House nomination: Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland
- Pro Tempore nomination: Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene
- House Majority Leader: Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland
- House Majority Whip: Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego
- House Majority Deputy Whip: Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene
- Assistant House Majority Leader: Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland
- Assistant House Majority Leader: Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-Tualatin/West Linn
- Assistant House Majority Leader: Rep. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro
- Senate President: Peter Courtney, D-Salem
- Senate Pro Tempore: James Manning, D-Eugene
- Senate Majority Leader: Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego
- Deputy Senate Majority Leader: Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland
Two final Senate races in Salem and Bend were decided yesterday when remaining challenge ballots were tallied. Democratic challenger Deb Patterson edged out incumbent Republican Senator Denyc Boles in her bid for the South Salem seat formerly held by beloved Republican lawmaker Jackie Winters who died last year. With Patterson’s victory, Democrats hold onto their 18 seat super-majority in the Senate after losing the southern coastal region of Senate District 5 formerly held by Democrat Arnie Roblan to Republican Dick Anderson. Bend Republican Tim Knopp was able to glide to a comfortable margin of victory against opponent Eileen Kiely after votes were counted in Senate District 27.
Challenge ballots are ballots culled from normal vote-counting because of a missing signature or a signature that doesn’t match what’s on record. Voters had to correct the ballot defects by November 17.