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COURTESY PHOTO - Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, at one of her McDonalds franchises in the Portland area

Rep. Janelle Bynum of Clackamas has declared she will seek to wrest the House speakership from Tina Kotek, the Portland Democrat who has held the job for the past eight years.

Bynum was just reelected to her third term from District 51, which covers parts of Clackamas and Multnomah counties.

Kotek was reelected to her eighth term from District 44 in North and Northeast Portland.

The 37 Democratic representatives in the newly elected House are scheduled to meet in closed session on Monday to choose their nominee for speaker and other party caucus leaders.

The 23 Republicans already chose Rep. Christine Drazan of Canby for another cycle. Drazan ousted outgoing Rep. Carl Wilson of Grants Pass as party leader during the 2019 session.

The choice of the majority party usually prevails when the House elects its speaker on opening day, which is Jan. 11.

Unlike the speaker and the speaker pro tem, who presides over the House when the speaker is absent, the other leaders are not subject to a vote of the full House.

Along with the Senate president, the House speaker is one of the two most influential figures in the Oregon Legislature. The presiding officers control the flow of legislation through their appointment of committee members and leaders and the assignment of bills to committees.

If Bynum succeeds in her quest, she would be the first woman of color to hold the speakership in Oregon history.

Her statement, which she issued Monday, Nov. 9, said in part:

“Transparency, diversity of thought and simplicity are my core values as a legislator and leader. Every day I bring these principles to life in both my words and deeds.

“Now, more than ever before, our state needs a leader who listens to the electorate, leads by empowering her colleagues and understands both the social and financial implications of policies so important to Oregonians.”

Bynum and her husband, Mark, own four restaurants in the Portland area, including McDonald’s franchises.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1996 from Florida A&M University and a master’s in business administration in 2000 from the University of Michigan.

She is the current chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Along with Sen. James Manning, D-Eugene, she is co-chair of the Legislature’s joint committee looking at change in police practices.

The most recent speaker to lose a bid for a new term as presiding officer was Republican Lynn Lundquist of Powell Butte, now deceased, who was ousted by Republican Lynn Snodgrass of Damascus in the 1999 session. Both ran for Oregon secretary of state in 2000; Snodgrass won the GOP primary, but lost to appointed Democratic incumbent Bill Bradbury in the general election.

Kotek became House Democratic leader at the close of the 2011 session, and after Democrats broke a 30-30 tie with a net gain of four seats in the 2012 elections, she became House speaker. She was the first open lesbian to lead a state legislative chamber in the nation; three gay men have done so.

Kotek is Oregon's longest-serving House speaker. She surpassed Democrat Vera Katz's three terms in 2019-20.

Democrats increased their majority by one in the 2014 election, and by three more in 2018 for a modern high of 38 seats, slightly more than the supermajority of 36 required to pass revenue-raising measures without Republican votes.

Democrats ousted a Republican incumbent in Bend but lost two open seats on the coast to Republicans for a net loss of one in the Nov. 3 election. Two Democratic incumbents won narrowly over Republican challengers.

Bynum concluded her statement:

“I am asking my colleagues for an open process and an honest chance for a qualified and passionate woman of color to lead the Oregon House of Representatives. In this moment of shattering norms and elevating often unheard voices, I feel called to run and would be honored to serve.”

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