Rob Wagner: Rob Wagner originally entered the Oregon Capitol as an intern for a Portland Democrat. Wagner will become Senate president in January when Gov. Kate Brown leaves office. Wagner, the Senate’s Democratic leader, had a convoluted path to the top seat. Wagner claims he worked for at least two weeks as a Senate intern, however, Brown maintains he barely lasted a day.
Rob Wagner Is Getting Ready To Become The First New Senator From Oregon Since 2003
Wagner earned a master’s degree in public policy from George Washington University after graduating from Portland State University. Lake Oswego native returned to Oregon in 2002 as AFT’s political director.
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After weeks of difficult talks, 15 Democrats and 15 Republicans named Salem Democrat Peter Courtney as the new Senate president. Courtney’s 20 years as Senate president ends in January.
“A lobbyist buddy said to me, ‘Did you ever believe in 2003, when you were in your first term working for AFT, that you’d be Senate president?’ Wagner never expected his career to go this way.
Wagner claimed it’s hard for him to fill Courtney’s shoes. His manner is more restrained than Courtney’s, and he aims to listen more than speak in the part. “Every day I learn something new, and the smartest individuals in the state are eager to educate me,” he remarked. It’s intriguing if you’re receptive to it.
That includes negotiating with Senate Republicans, who reduced the Democrats’ majority to 17 of 30 seats. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said Wagner is “untrustworthy, intensely politicized, and lacks the abilities to govern the Senate bipartisanly”
Wagner initially saw Knopp in the Republican’s office after his comments. Over sandwiches, Knopp and Wagner discussed their legislative ambitions. “We’ll eat a sandwich every week and discuss concerns.” I feel it’s my obligation, especially in my position, to meet people where they are, so I’ll keep doing that.
Knopp told us there are still no Republican votes for Wagner as president, but he’ll meet with anyone who will listen to his caucus’ concerns, which include ensuring Oregonians receive the “kicker” rebate when state revenue exceeds projections and limiting the authority of future governors after Brown and state agencies exercised a lot of power during the pandemic state of emergency.
“The fundamental to any legislative partnership is that everyone’s perspective is heard, and we had a track record of that with Senator Courtney, who created a reputation for trust and honesty and for making sure the minority voice was heard and respected,” Knopp said. Wagner hasn’t had time to build that up.
Wagner said Senate Democrats will focus on housing, homelessness, mental health, and addiction, like incoming Gov. Tina Kotek and the House Democratic majority. The Legislature must also handle other knotty concerns.
The state has less than one-third of the public defenders needed to represent indigent defendants. As of November, when the Joint Emergency Board granted a $10 million infusion to the state’s public defender agency, 800 people lacked representation and judges were dismissing cases. The Legislature will also consider replacing the Oregon-Washington I-5 Bridge. From $3.2 to $4.8 billion in 2020, the cost of a new bridge jumped to $5 to $7.5 billion in December.
Rob Wagner prepares to take over as Oregon’s first new Senate president since 2003 https://t.co/67jvl7Sh7z
— The Oregonian (@Oregonian) January 4, 2023
Washington lawmakers expected Oregon to provide $1 billion last year. Arguments over transit and pedestrian access, cost, and tolls, which are typical in Washington but not in Oregon, have played out at Oregon Transportation Commission meetings and will likely monopolize legislative time this year.
Wagner may not face the legislative walkouts that afflicted Courtney in 2019, 2020, and 2021 due to a new voter-approved statute. The Oregon Constitution requires 20 senators and 40 representatives for a quorum, thus the minority can shut down the Legislature if discussions fail.
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“I believe the voters were clear that they want individuals to show up to work and perform their job,” Wagner added. I’m confident it won’t be, but it’s about meeting people where they are, being actively involved, and letting them address unpleasant topics. I’m optimistic about the upcoming legislative session.
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