It's a new year, with a new governor, new leadership teams in the Legislature and several new House and Senate members.

But their workplace with the golden ax-swinger statue atop its salt-shaker shaped dome has been showing its age in recent decades.

The Oregon Capitol building is undergoing the third, last and most massive portion of a $500 million Capitol Accessibility, Maintenance and Safety project - know by the acroynm CAMS.

CAMS III as it is called goes right into gouging out the guts of the 1938 art deco Capitol. It's scrambled the habitats and habits of the hundreds of people who work at 900 Court St. in Salem.

"Frankenstein's Statehouse"

For the first time since the COVID-19 state of emergency declared by former Gov. Kate Brown closed the capitol to the public in March 2020, the Legislature plans to hold do nearly all business - hearings, meetings, floor sessions - in person.

On Monday, both the Senate and House revised and largely dropped rules regarding pandemic protocols that included holding most hearings online and limited the number of people in the building and in the larger 60-member House event required shifts of lawmaker coming onto the floor so as not to create a terrarium effect for the virus.

Though now open to the public, the capitol is a major headache for anyone working or visiting. To reinforce the domed home of state government, the rotunda is sealed off. Modernized ventilation, security and communications.

Gov. Brown, some state executives, several agency offices and the entire capitol press corps had to move out last spring. The House and Senate chambers were buffed up first and were ready in time for the 2023 session. Lawmaker offices and many hearing rooms are open too.

The maze of detours and stitched-together passageways have won the building the nickname "Frankenstein's Statehouse." But the updated ventilation should alleviate another long-time nickname for the capitol: "The Flu Factory."

Governor in architectural exile

Gov. Tina Kotek signed the three executive orders she issued on Tuesday in the governor's temporary office in the historic state library, across Court Street from the capitol.

The library opened the year after the Capitol, in 1939 and uses the same exterior design and stone flanking one side of the Capitol Mall, lined with cherry trees that show off pinkish blossoms in the spring. The library already went through an overhaul in 1990.

Under the CAMS III plan, Kotek won't be back in the traditional governor's office on the second floor of the Capitol near the rotunda until January 2025.

Lawmakers were given the small amount of garage space under the capitol that wasn't closed by the work. Swaths of public parking on Court Street and State Street have been commandeered for official use. Even within the elegant chambers, the sound of drilling and hammering is muffled but constant. House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, gave the 60 House members personalized orange construction hats as a welcome gift. The work won't be completed until January 2025.

Vietnamese-American lawmakers

The House has 21 new members, more than a third of the 60 seats. About half are new to the House since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Oregon that followed immediately after the end of the March 2020 session.

One landmark was the swearing in of five Vietnamese-American lawmakers — the most of any legislative body in the nation. Four are freshmen Democrats: Dr. Hai Pham of Hillsboro and Lake Oswego city councilor Daniel Nguyen, along with Dr. Thuy Tran and Public schools attendance officer Hoa Nguyen of Portland.

They joined second-termer Khanh Pham, D-Portland, who was on the House program to read a poem — but not the one announced she would recite as the invocation.

She changed her plan for the poem last night and read “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman, not "America" by Langston Hughes," Pham aide Doyle Canning wrote in an email Monday.

If Canning's name sounds familiar to political watchers, it's because she was the runner-up among the eight candidates in last May's Democratic primary for the 4th Congressional District won by Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle of Springfield.

Senate shuffle 

The new year has barely begun and already the Legislature is going through unexpected changes. The 30-member Senate is currently short one member after the recent resignation of Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg. 

Under law, the new senator must be from the same political party.

Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, was chosen Wednesday by county commissioners in the district to take the seat. After he is sworn in, the process will begin to find a replacement for his House District 1 seat.

There were also a few other new faces in new places.

Sen. Suzanne Weber, R-Tillamook, flipped the northwestern seat held by former Sen. Betsy Johnson, who left office and the Democratic Party in an unsuccessful bid as a non-affiliated candidate for governor.

Sen. WInsvey Campos, D-Aloha, is the youngest state senator in history at age 27. She moves over from the House, where she was the youngest state representative at age 24. A rising Democratic star, she's being touted by some in the party as a natural congressional candidate in 2024 to run against U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez DeRemer, R-Happy Valley, in the 5th Congressional District.

Democrats hold 17 of 30 seats in the Senate, where the Republican caucus counts 11 members.

Sen. Art Robinson of Cave Junction calls himself an "independent Republican" and doesn't meet with other GOP lawmakers on strategy, though he most often votes with the position out of agreement on issues.

Sen. Brian Boquist was elected as a Republican, but after internal party friction, re-registered as a member of the Independent Party. He also is a GOP vote more times than not.

Bobby and Em

With the swearing in of new lawmakers, the 60-member House now has two Representative Levys — who straddle partisan and geographic distances.

Rep. Bobby Levy of Echo is a conservative Republican who has represented a northeastern Oregon district since 2021.

Newly-elected Rep. Emerson Levy — sometimes called "Em" by friends — is a progressive Democrat whose district in northern Deschutes County includes parts of Bend and Redmond.

Moved out, moving over, moving up

The 2022 redistricting plan drawn by the Democrat majority left Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, without his former central Oregon district and constituency whose population center stretched from the Columbia River to Madras in Jefferson County and scooping up a chunk of northern Deschutes County that included Sisters. 

A Deputy Minority Leader, Bonham had been a rising star for the GOP in the House. Timing working in his favor. Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River opted not to seek re-election in the new Republican-friendly Senate District 26. Bonham easily won the primary and general election to move across the Capitol to the Senate.

Bonham's transition went even better than he hoped, as his Senate colleagues voted unanimously this week to make him a belated addition to the GOP leadership team in the chamber. House Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, will have four deputy leaders in Bonham, Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, Sen. Dick Anderson, R-Lincoln City, and Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer.

“I am pleased to welcome Senator Bonham to the leadership team,” Knopp said in a statement. “His breadth of knowledge, leadership experience, and perspective gained during his tenure in the House will be an invaluable asset to our team." 

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