No more will Lawanda and James Manning carry the American and Oregon flags to start each day’s session of the Oregon Senate.
Lawanda Manning died last Friday. She was the wife of Sen. James Manning Jr., D-Eugene; his beloved legislative assistant; and so much more.
She had become the unofficial Capitol mom and grandmother, who taught the son of Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, how to shake hands and look somebody in the eye. She was the compassionate adult who carried a sparkle in her eye, who welcomed all into her office and who expected them to behave properly. She was the tenacious advocate who served as chair of the Oregon Commission on Black Affairs.
Throughout their 45-year marriage, Lawanda and James were “the everything” to each other. Colleagues saw them as a single unit – “James and Lawanda, Lawanda and James.” The Mannings loved presenting the colors to start a Senate floor session, which they often were asked to do.
Death is such an ordinary part of humanity. Lawanda Manning’s passing reminds us that, regardless of beliefs and circumstances, politicians and their staffs are real people, drawn from the ranks of Oregonians. As do we, they face heartbreaks and celebrate joys throughout the bumpy road of life.
Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, has lost 17 friends and family members to COVID-19 in the past year.
Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, lost his mother on Saturday. Suzanne Carol (Gaylord) Knopp had battled Alzheimer’s for over 13 years. Knopp, at Senate President Peter Courtney’s suggestion, told stories about his mother on the Senate floor on Monday.
Senators then talked about the Mannings and grieved for Sen. Manning.
“For the last few days, members of our Senate have experienced hardship and sadness and hurt,” said Courtney, D-Salem. “The pain and suffering of an individual heart that’s in pieces is so profound to each of us that we want to help.”
Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod of Lyons experienced his own loss last September when wildfire destroyed his home.
“Each of us are honored to be part of the Senate. And when we have tragedy,” Girod said, “it’s very important that people realize that we come together as one. Not Republican or Democrat. We come together as one, and we will support the other and do whatever it takes to help them get through it. I experienced that when my house burned down.”
Legislators are ordinary people who feel the call to public service; in essence, to achieve extraordinary things on Oregonians’ behalf. Some legislators have greater impact than others. Some of their work delights us; some displeases or even angers us. And though occasionally a bad actor surfaces, most are good people.
As the 2021 Legislature nears its end, lawmakers deserve our courtesy, our respect and our appreciation even when we are frustrated or disappointed.
The Senate this week overwhelmingly passed SB 778 to create the state Office of Immigrant and Refugee Advancement. Sen. Kayse Jama, D-Portland, who 22 years ago came to Oregon as a refugee from Somalia, presented the bill.
He talked about how he felt welcomed into the Senate after being appointed to fill the seat held by now-Secretary of State Shemia Fagan.
Jama recalled one conversation in particular. Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, told him, “We may disagree on policy, but you will never be my enemy.”
“And that had a profound impact on me,” Jama said.
Life at the Employment Department: in other news, the Oregon Employment Department’s well-regarded economic-data website – QualityInfo.org – temporarily was offline Monday because the domain registry had not been renewed.
House Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby hoped the lapse was not an indicator of what lay ahead. “I am just rooting for the Employment Department to get its act together,” she said after voting to approve the department’s $6.8 billion budget.
The Legislature this week easily approved the budget, HB 5007, and sent it to Gov. Kate Brown.
The department’s acting director, David Gerstenfeld, said the 2021-23 budget includes the additional staff hired during the pandemic; expands job-finding assistance, especially for Oregonians displaced by foreign competition; continues implementing the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program; and proceeds with the agency’s new computer system.
Taking the weekend off: Other than a few committee meetings on Friday, the House and Senate are off until Monday. Next week they begin the sprint toward the constitutional deadline of finishing this year’s work by June 27.
President Courtney’s staff had announced that Friday would be “Dress like Peter Courtney Day!” in honor of his 78th birthday. Senators and others were encouraged to wear their best Peter Courtney attire of khakis, blue shirt and necktie.
Budget whiplash: Last month, Gov. Brown denounced how legislators were constructing the state school budget. Then she shifted course and announced she had reached agreement with legislative leaders on the $9.3 billion budget for the next two years.
Then this week she exercised a line-item veto, striking $200 million from the budget, saying the Legislature shouldn’t be taking that money from a rainy day fund. Rep. Suzanne Weber, R-Tillamook, condemned that action in a brief floor speech Thursday.
Legislative conduct: The bipartisan decision to expel Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence, came together quickly last week, according to House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland. The game-changer was video that surfaced showing his apparent intent to let protestors into the closed Capitol on Dec. 21, 2020.
Nearman was the only House member to vote against his ouster. His seat is now vacant until county commissioners in District 23 appoint a successor. Nearman could apply for his old job and/or seek election again.
During her media briefing with Oregon journalists this week, Kotek said the House Conduct Committee yet must meet to conclude its role in the case.