Rep. Tina Kotek of Portland is the choice of her Democratic colleagues for a record fifth two-year term as speaker of the Oregon House.
But Democratic Rep. Janelle Bynum of Clackamas says she will put her name in nomination when the full House chooses the speaker. The opening day of the Oregon Legislature is Jan. 11, when new members take office during an organizational session.
Lawmakers start their 160-day session on Jan. 19; organizational days do not count toward the limit on the length of a legislative session.
A member must win 31 votes, a majority, to become speaker. Usually, the majority party's choice prevails, although in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the winner had to make political concessions to secure the position.
Unlike the Democratic or Republican caucus meetings, where votes are secret, the votes of the full House for speaker and speaker pro tem are conducted in public.
The House's 23 Republicans already have chosen Rep. Christine Drazan of Canby to lead them again. Drazan, while still in her first term from District 39, ousted Rep. Carl Wilson as GOP leader after the end of the 2019 session.
Together with the Senate president, the House speaker controls the flow of legislation by appointment of committee members and leaders, and the assignment of bills to committees.
Kotek emerged as the choice Monday, Nov. 16, from a virtual meeting of the 37 incoming Democrats.
The Democrats also nominated Rep. Paul Holvey of Eugene for a second term as speaker pro tem, who presides over the House when the speaker is absent and is part of the leadership team.
Rep. Barbara Smith Warner of Portland will return as majority leader, a position she has held since Jennifer Williamson of Portland vacated it after the 2019 session. Her position, and others within the Democratic leadership team, are not subject to votes of the full House.
Kotek, 54, was a legislative advocate before she was elected in 2006 from District 44 in North and Northeast Portland. She became House Democratic leader at the end of the 2011 session, when the major parties were tied 30-30. After Democrats gained four seats in the 2012 elections, Kotek became speaker.
When she began her first session as speaker, in 2013, she was the first lesbian to lead a state legislative chamber in the nation. Three gay men have led their chambers in California, Colorado and Rhode Island.
She set the record for the speakership two years ago, when she surpassed the three-term mark held by Rep. Vera Katz of Portland from 1985 to 1991.
Bynum, 45, is a restaurant owner who was elected in 2016 from District 51, which takes in parts of Clackamas and Multnomah counties. She is the current leader of the House Judiciary Committee and has taken an active role in seeking change in police practices.
She is the first person of color bidding to be the presiding officer of the Oregon House or Senate.
She said she seeks a public vote on who should be the next speaker.
An excerpt is below from her statement she released Monday. Her full statement follows after the story.
"It should not be lost on us that no person of color has ever had their name spoken on the floor of the House in the election for speaker. This would be a first and the moment in our history calls for it. Just as it was historic to hear the first openly lesbian speaker's name called during the vote, it will be equally as compelling to hear the first Black woman's name. This is a wake-up call for Oregon because it finally recognizes the existence, contributions and significance of Black women and people of color communities in the fabric of state and national politics. We will finally stop being ignored."
NOTE: Updates story posted Monday, Nov. 16, prior to House Democratic caucus meeting that evening.
Full statement by Speaker Kotek
"I'm honored to have the support of my caucus to continue serving Oregon and the chamber as House speaker.
"Like every business and family in Oregon, the Legislature has been moving from crisis to crisis since February. As we head into the 2021 session, we are facing a global pandemic, high unemployment, a billion-dollar budget hole, an expensive wildfire recovery, a severe housing shortage, and the everyday harm of systemic racism. All of these crises require urgent action and experienced leadership.
"I remain committed to continue working with every member to help all parts of the state to solve these immense challenges. Every legislator will need to bring all their compassion and empathy to the table. Together, we can build a better and more just Oregon."
Full statement by Rep. Janelle Bynum
"Tonight I announced that I will seek the nomination for speaker on the House floor on January 12, 2021. For too long, old 'traditions' and 'customs' have been prevented people who don't come from traditional political backgrounds or communities of color from successfully challenging the status quo and leading with their truth.
"Whether running for office for the first time or attempting to ascend internal leadership ladders, we are often told to wait, are brushed aside, or made to feel that we don't pass a particular litmus test. It should not be lost on us that no person of color has ever had their name spoken on the floor of the House in the election for speaker. This would be a first and the moment in our history calls for it. Just as it was historic to hear the first openly lesbian speaker's name called during the vote, it will be equally as compelling to hear the first Black woman's name. This is a wake-up call for Oregon because it finally recognizes the existence, contributions and significance of Black women and people of color communities in the fabric of state and national politics. We will finally stop being ignored.
"I am asking my colleagues to intentionally make space for us because representation matters.
"Additionally, with trust in governing institutions at an all-time low, I believe the best way to rebuild our relationship with Oregonians is to start with transparency. The Oregon Constitution already lays out the public and transparent process for the nomination and selection of the speaker in the chamber. Article II, Section 15, and Article IV, Section 14, requires legislative deliberations to be open and a vote be given 'openly or viva voce.' I look forward to the process ahead.
"Regardless of the outcome, I will lead by example and completely respect the body's decision. Now is the time for bold leadership that will help Oregonians heal and move forward together."
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