Special session looms as virus hammers economy (copy)

PMG FILE PHOTO - Oregon Legislature

Democrats will start the 2023 legislative session with smaller majorities and a new governor.

Republicans are disappointed the new governor is former House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland. The GOP remains in the minority in the House and Senate, but their position has improved compared to the past four years when Democrats had the ability to push through most bills without compromising — or sometimes even consulting — with Republicans.

Even as the Nov. 8 election was winding down, Democrats and Republicans were looking at strategy and tactics beginning Jan. 9. That's when the 82nd Oregon Legislative Assembly will first meet.

Leaders were chosen for a session that will be the first in eight years without Kate Brown as governor, Tina Kotek as House Speaker and Peter Courtney as Senate President.

Brown leaves office early next year, while Courtney is retiring and his successor will be chosen by the new Senate.

Kotek returns to Salem as the new governor, having defeated her onetime House floor arch-rival, Rep. Christine Drazan, R-Canby. 

The lineups on each side and each chamber are still slightly fuzzy. At least three House seats in the Clackamas County area remained undecided, along with a single Senate seat.

But with the final votes due at country clerk offices by Tuesday night, the tally from the Secretary of State showed just a handful of races that weren't settled or showed strong indications on the most likely political outcome.

Democrats were heading toward an estimated 35-25 majority in the state House and 16 of 30 seats in the state senate. Both figures pushed the majority below the key three-fifths mark that allows for the party to pass taxes and other financial legislation without Republican assistance.

In separate meetings, Democrats and Republicans voted to return the same leaders from 2022 to their roles in 2023.

Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) won the nomination from House Democrats to serve as Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives. Rayfield was first elected speaker following the 2021 departure of Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland, who resigned from the position and the House in order to run for governor. She won the Nov. 8 election.

“I’m humbled by the opportunity to continue serving as Speaker,” Rayfield said. “I was first elected to serve in this role during a period of significant transition. But we came together in a

bipartisan way under challenging circumstances early this year to invest in education, housing, rural Oregon, and support for working families.'

Choosing a speaker will be one of the first orders of business for the 2023 "long session" that begins Monday, Jan. 9. He will be officially nominated to serve as House Speaker on Monday, January 9. It will mark the 82nd Oregon Legislative Assembly, the session that includes approving a new two-year state budget by early summer 2023. All members of the House, regardless of political party, vote for speaker. The majority party nominee is usually the winner.

The House Democratic Caucus also chose party leaders. The caucus re-elected Rep. Julie Fahey (D-West Eugene) as House Majority Leader.

 “Oregonians sent us to Salem with a strong majority to fix the most pressing, urgent issues facing this state," Fahey said in a statement. The party also re-nominated Speaker Pro Tempore Paul Holvey, D-Eugene. The caucus chose Rep. Andrea Valderrama, D-Portland, as Majority Whip. Rep. Rob Nosse (D-Portland) is assistant majority whip. The three assistant majority leaders would be Rep. Jason Kropf, D-Bend; Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, and  Rep. Dacia Grayber, D-Tigard.

In a meeting Wednesday in Albany, the Oregon Republican Senate Caucus reelected Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, as minority leader. 

"I want to thank the caucus for putting their trust in me as leader," Knopp said in a statement. "I'm proud of the work we have accomplished and welcome our three new senators-elect who eliminated the Democratic supermajority."

With at least 12 GOP senators and with the cooperation of Sen. Brian Boquist, I-Dallas, with the caucus, Republicans have an opportunity to derail fiscal legislation that Democrats for the past four years have been able to approve without any Republican votes.

Knopp and House Minority Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville, put out a joint statement on Wednesday saying they would use their larger minority caucuses to slow or stop Democratic efforts to add new programs or spending.

“Oregonians spoke in the recent election by breaking the supermajority in the legislature," Breese-Iverson said. "Republicans will respond in the upcoming legislative session by holding strong against growing government or taxes.” 

Democrats have a 16-vote majority in the 30-member Senate, with one race still undecided. Republicans are guaranteed to keep Democrats under the 18-vote supermajority they held in the current session.

Gary A. Warner is a political reporter for The Oregon Capital Bureau. gwarner@eomediagroup.com

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