Top Oregon Officials Go From Spectacle To Politics

Spectacle To Politics: After Monday’s festivities have died down, Oregon’s new governor and legislature leaders will have to go through six months of partisan politics to pass a new state budget and vote on progressive policy proposals.

Top Oregon Officials Go From Spectacle To Politics

On Tuesday, Governor Tina Kotek signed the three executive orders she announced in her inaugural address on Monday. The first is a declaration of an emergency regarding homelessness, and the second is an order to state agencies to make homelessness a high priority. The third proposal would expedite the construction of new homes to alleviate the shortage of available homes for sale and the rising cost of rental properties.

The legislature met on Monday for organizational purposes and then adjourned until Tuesday, January 17. The legally required 160-day session will begin on that day and finish on June 25.

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New Faces In New Places

After a decade of stabilityβ€”or stagnation, as some would argueβ€”at the top of state government, 2023 ushers in widespread change across the board. Kate Brown, who Kotek succeeds as governor, has been in office since 2015 when she was appointed to the position after John Kitzhaber resigned as a result of an influence-peddling scandal. After former Chief Justice Martha Walters retired, Brown appointed Meagan Flynn to lead the Oregon Supreme Court on January 1.

While Democrats retained control of both houses of Congress after the November election, their Senate minority shrank below the three-fifths threshold that had permitted them to enact major tax and financial bills without Republican support over the previous four years.

New Faces In New Places
New Faces In New Places

With the current makeup of the House, 35 Democrats and 25 Republicans, it will take the support of at least two Republicans to approve any significant financial legislation. To enact identical legislation, the Democrats in the Senate, who possess 17 seats, require support from at least one Republican and one Independent.

On Monday, Senators chose Rob Wagner, a Democrat from Lake Oswego, to be the chamber’s next president for the first time since 2003. Dan Rayfield of Corvallis, who served as speaker for part of 2017 when Kotek left after a decade in the position to run for governor, was reelected to the position.

In recent years, there have been more leadership changes within the Republican minority. Bend’s seasoned senator and former majority leader Tim Knopp is back in his position as a Republican senator. Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville, is returning to her role as House Minority Leader after Christine Drazan, the previous Republican leader, left to mount a vigorous but ultimately failed campaign for governor.

Bipartisan Hopes, Partisan Realities

On Monday, Rayfield expressed his optimism that the partisan fighting that led to Republican walkouts in the 2019 and 2020 sessions wouldn’t continue into the 2023 session. He did, however, note that the aim is lofty in theory but challenging in practice.

I don’t want to give the impression that everything is going to be sunshine and unicorns at this meeting, he said.

Bipartisan Hopes, Partisan Realities
Bipartisan Hopes, Partisan Realities

New House Speaker Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) presented each representative with an orange hard helmet personalized with his or her name. Construction on seismic upgrades and interior renovations to the Capitol will continue through January 2025.

Wagner added his hopes for a more collaborative Senate environment. Republican walkouts to obstruct measures by refusing the minimum quorum to complete any business have upset the typically tranquil Senate in recent sessions.

As if that weren’t enough, in 2021, Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod, R-Stayton, caused a major rift among Republicans by opting not to walk out in protest of gun safety legislation. The bill was approved along party lines despite Republican opposition. Referred to the voters as Measure 114, it will be on the ballot in 2022. Although voters narrowly supported the amendment, injunctions from the courts have delayed its implementation.

Wagner acknowledged the dramatic shift in the Senate chamber following Courtney’s resignation in his first address to the body. He used Abraham Lincoln to argue that overcoming differences of opinion was a journey, not an endpoint.

“We make not the perfect union, but a perfect union,” Wagner remarked.

At the beginning of the month, Knopp harshly criticized the Democrats’ selection of Wagner.

Sen. Wagner “has proven he is untrustworthy, extremely politicized, and has the basic abilities to manage the Senate in a nonpartisan approach,” Knopp added. As a member of the Republican caucus, Senator Wagner has no support in the Senate.

The political temperature was lowered to a gentle simmer on Monday. Kim Thatcher (R-Salem) was nominated for Senate President by Knopp and his caucus. By taking this action, Republican senators avoided having to open the session by voting down Wagner’s candidature and ultimate confirmation to head the chamber. With a vote of 17-12, Wagner was declared the winner.

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Having just resigned, Republican Roseburg Senator Dallas Heard has left the Senate with one seat open. Rep. David Brock Smith (R-Port Orford) has been nominated as the top pick for the Republican successor for Heard by the area’s GOP precinct captains, and the county commissioners in Heard’s district will make the final decision.

Sen. James Manning (D-Eugene) has been selected as the Senate President Pro Tempore in Wagner’s absence.

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