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Kotek to step down early as Oregon House speaker

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Kotek to step down early as Oregon House speaker


Oregon Capital Bureau

Tina Kotek has announced she will yield the speakership of the Oregon House after a record nine years, as well as the House seat she has held since 2007, before her term officially ends.

The Democrat from Portland said Thursday that Jan. 21 will be her final day in office.

She has already filed for the Democratic nomination for governor in the May 17 primary. Democratic incumbent Kate Brown is barred by term limits from running again, and more than two dozen candidates have filed from the Democratic and Republican parties so far.

Kotek will not preside or even sit in the House during the 2022 session, which starts Feb. 1 and is scheduled to run 35 days.

Her statement in part:

“After considerable reflection, I have decided to step down from the Legislature before the upcoming session. I have spent the past few months working hard with my colleagues to set a session agenda that includes essential investments in the services Oregonians need and paves a path forward on important issues for workers, our natural resources, and economic growth. I have faith in my colleagues to get everything over the finish line next month.”

A House rule also bars members from raising campaign funds during a session.

Kotek’s announcement followed a text the previous day by Senate President Peter Courtney to Senate Democrats that he will retire from the Legislature after his term ends. The Salem Democrat, however, will stay until his elected successor takes office Jan. 9, 2023. He will have been in the Oregon Legislature a record 38 years.

Courtney and Kotek have not always seen eye to eye, but Courtney praised her service in a statement:

“Tina will always be a historic figure in the Legislature. To be speaker for 10 years in the House is extremely difficult. She is very good at many things. She is excellent with budgets. She is an advocate in many ways before anything else. She has been very involved in housing, homelessness, and criminal justice reform. Tina has served the state well during a challenging time in Oregon’s history. I thank her for her years of service.”

The House speaker and Senate president play influential roles in Oregon’s lawmaking process. They appoint the members and leaders of committees, where most of the Oregon Legislature’s detailed work is done, and assign bills to committees. Unlike in other states, the Oregon Legislature does not amend bills when they are up for votes in their chambers.

Although they are chosen by their chambers, the presiding officer is usually the nominee of the chamber’s majority party. The most recent Senate president chosen by a coalition of members from both parties was back in 1971.

Question of succession

It was unclear who Kotek’s successor as speaker will be for the rest of the year.

Next in line as speaker pro tempore is Paul Holvey of Eugene, a Democrat who has been in the House since his initial appointment in 2004. He is a retired representative for the Carpenters Union.

But for the past four decades, with exceptions here and there, the party leader is the one who has advanced to being the presiding officer in House and Senate. The current majority leader is Rep. Barbara Smith Warner of Portland.

Rep. Janelle Bynum of Clackamas, who is Black, had planned to challenge Kotek for the speakership a year ago. But she withdrew her bid after Kotek gave assurances for a bigger role by members of color, who now number nine of the 37 Democrats. Bynum has said she would like to make another try for it.

Kotek, 55, was elected to the House from District 44 in North and Northeast Portland in 2006. She made a previous bid for the House from an adjoining district. She was previously a lobbyist for the Oregon Food Bank and Children First for Oregon.

Before she became House speaker in 2013 — the first lesbian to lead a legislative chamber in the nation — Kotek co-led the human services budget subcommittee in 2009 and 2011. After the 2011 regular session, which was tied 30-30, she replaced Dave Hunt as the House Democratic leader. Democrats elevated her to speaker after they gained four seats for a majority in 2012.

Rare midterm change

In the past half century, only a couple of presiding officers have stepped down before the end of their two-year tenures — the legislative cycle is two years — and they were late in their tenures.

In 2002, Republican Gene Derfler of Salem stepped down as Senate president after he accepted an appointment by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. The next person in line was Republican Sen. Tom Hartung of Cedar Mill, who served one month and did not the opportunity to preside over the Senate or co-lead the Emergency Board, the group of lawmakers who decide budget matters between sessions of the full Legislature. Hartung also was leaving the Senate after two elected terms. Courtney became president two days into the 2003 session, when the Senate was tied 15-15.

In 2009, Democrat Jeff Merkley of Portland left the House speakership early after he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008. The next in line was Democrat Diane Rosenbaum of Portland, who served one week as speaker before Dave Hunt took over for the 2009 session. She had already been elected to the Senate, where she became majority leader in 2011 and president pro tempore after the 2015 session.

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