Image for Kotek Makes Pledges as Legislative Issues Emerge
Oregon Governor-elect Tina Kotek spoke to the Business Summit, promising more accountability and an openness to partnerships with business group. She said her operational priorities are to address homelessness, tackle mental health and addiction and improve schools.

Homelessness, Workforce, Education and Bridge Funding Top List

Governor-elect Tina Kotek told business leaders this week she will “reframe success” to prioritize results and operational excellence in her new administration. Her comments come as key issues begin to emerge for the 2023 Oregon legislature that convenes in January.

In her first major speech since the election, Kotek said she will prioritize rebuilding trust, increasing state agency accountability and supporting partnerships between the state and the private sector, including up to $300 million to boost Oregon’s chances to win federal semiconductor funding. Oregon’s effort to expand its computer chip industrial base took a hit when Microchip Technology shelved its plan to build a $5 billion manufacturing facility in Gresham.

Kotek promised results on housing and homelessness, on mental health and addiction services and on school improvement. She also promised to visit each county next year to listen to constituent concerns, starting with visits to Yamhill and Douglas counties before her January 9 inauguration. Her Republican opponent received more votes in those counties than she did.

Kotek defined victory as when a working mom enrolls her child in an affordable childcare program, an unhoused military veteran gets a home and a struggling student knows the satisfaction of reading her first book.

James Schroeder was named today as interim director of the embattled Oregon Health Authority.

The new governor and her transition team have focused on selecting new state agency leaders. Kotek announced today the appointment of James Schroeder as interim head of the Oregon Health Authority, effective January 10. Schroeder has been CEO of Health Share Oregon, the state’s largest Medicaid provider, since 2020. He has a clinical background as a physician assistant and 20 years of experience as a health care manager, including as a medical officer in the Oregon Air National Guard.

No Shortage of Legislative Issues
There will be no shortage of issues for lawmakers in the 2023 session including Kotek’s anticipated homeless initiative, recruiting more public defenders, reserving Oregon’s $1 billion share to replace the I-5 Columbia River Bridge and plugging an estimated $560 million budget hole.

Lawmakers have expressed interest in improving Oregon’s position to gain semiconductor industry funding from the federal CHIPS Act, creating a state water czar and assisting hospitals cope with workforce shortages amid a tripledemic of viruses overwhelming pediatric care facilities. Workforce initiatives also will be coming from multiple industries, taking a page out of Brown’s Future Ready Oregon effort.

Scores of other budget asks are expected. Secretary of State Shemia Fagan wants two more investigators to handle election complaints, Oregon venue operators seek a second round of funding as they try to regain their pre-pandemic audiences and education advocates project it will take an additional $500 million to hold public school services at current levels. There will be several requests to boost funding levels for projects underway that have seen bids rise because of inflation.

Without supermajorities in either the House or Senate, legislative Democrats will have a tougher time passing tax increases.

The threat of a recession next year as the Federal Reserve continues to ramp up interest rates to combat inflation could challenge lawmakers’ ability to sustain current spending levels and respond to new funding requests. Without supermajorities in either the House or Senate, legislative Democrats will have a tougher time passing tax increases.

Measure 114 Hearing Likely to Jam Capitol
One spillover from the 2022 election will command attention in the legislative session is implementation of voter-passed Measure 114, which has been delayed because of a temporary restraining order ordered by a Harney County district judge. Whether or not the gun safety initiative goes into effect, lawmakers will likely hold hearings to consider suggested changes to the permit-to-purchase firearm measure.

Crowds expected to show up for hearings on controversial topics will stretch the capacity limits at the state Capitol, which remains under construction. Turning away crowds, especially Oregonians driving long distances to Salem to testify, can become flashpoint.

Legislators who just finished hard-fought campaigns may feel uneasy as advocates push an initiative for the 2024 general election ballot to create an independent redistricting process that would redraw legislative districts before 2026 primary and general elections. Redistricting normally occurs about a decennial census and would affect the 2032 election cycle.

Brown, Courtney Political Era End
The new year will be marked by the exit of two long-serving political figures – Governor Kate Brown and Senate President Peter Courtney. Because of term limits, Brown was not eligible to seek re-election. Courtney chose to retire from political office.

Next year marks the end of a political era dominated by Kate Brown and Peter Courtney.

Brown was appointed to fill a vacant House seat in Portland in 1991. She won a Senate seat in 1996 when Republicans controlled the upper chamber by a 20-10 margin. Brown campaigned aggressively and helped Democrats pick up three Senate seats in the 1998 elections. One of the pick-ups was Courtney, who had run unsuccessfully for a Senate seat in 1986.

Brown declined an appointment to replace Secretary of State Phil Keisling after he resigned in 1999. She told political allies her goal was to become Senate President. That dream came close to coming true. Under her leadership, Democrats picked up enough seats in the 2002 election to bring the Senate to a 15-15 tie. Lawmakers from both parties wrangled over how to organize the Senate. On the second day of the 2003 legislative session, newly elected GOP Senator Bev Clarno, who came to Senate after serving as House Speaker, convinced her colleagues to throw their votes behind Courtney.

Courtney went on to become the longest serving Senate President in Oregon history. Brown successfully ran for Secretary of State in 2008 and, in an odd political twist, elevated to the governorship when John Kitzhaber resigned in 2015. Brown won re-election as Governor in 2018 and was in office during the coronavirus pandemic when she ordered lockdowns and mandatory mask requirements.