Democrats name budget leader for Oregon House speaker
Rep. Dan Rayfield of Corvallis, co-leader of the Legislature's joint budget committee for the past three years, is the choice of majority Democrats to succeed Tina Kotek of Portland as speaker of the Oregon House.
Rayfield won a secret vote Sunday of the 37 House Democrats. He defeated Rep. Janelle Bynum of Clackamas, who made a second bid for the House's top position. As is customary, no vote tally was announced.
Rep. Julie Fahey of Eugene is the new majority leader.
Bynum had challenged Kotek for speaker after the 2020 election. She pursued the job even after Kotek won a majority of Democrats, but not the 31 votes required to secure the position, in a post-election meeting. She dropped her bid that year after Kotek took steps to boost the political clout of the record nine members of color in the House — all Democrats — including a spot for Bynum on the House leadership team.
Bynum is Black.
Shortly before Kotek's announcement Jan. 6 that she would resign early, Bynum said that Kotek and outgoing Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner of Portland broke a pledge that they would support Bynum's new bid for speaker.
"I talked with her about a month ago," Bynum said, according to a report on Oregon Public Broadcasting. "The feeling I walked away with was she was not willing to honor that in the spirit in which it was agreed upon."
Kotek and Smith Warner said there was a deal, but it was not what Bynum said it was.
Whether they could have delivered on it, if there was a deal, is unclear. The other Democrats were not bound by any agreement made by the two departing leaders. Internal politics within the caucus, including future committee assignments for members, likely played a role.
Bynum offered a softer tone in a statement after the meeting Sunday:
"While I had hoped for a different outcome on this eve of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, I congratulate Rep. Rayfield for his successful ascension and commit to doing all that I can to ensure his tenure is successful," she wrote. "I issue this challenge to the Democratic Party: Commit to mentoring, stepping aside and creating pathways for leadership development. These are the ways qualified Oregonians of color will enter into these halls of power. We are capable of so much more than the opportunities that are open to us. There is no shortage of greatness in our diversity. I will keep working toward this end and hope that my courage inspires others to step up. I hope that my courage inspires others to make space."
Bynum, 46, is a third-term member who led the House Judiciary Committee during the 2021 session, when the panel crafted a package of bills affecting policing practices and built on work done during a 2020 special session.
The new leaders
Rayfield, 42, is a lawyer who is in his fourth term from District 16 in Corvallis and Philomath. He has been House co-leader of the Legislature's joint budget committee since 2019. He is a graduate of Tigard High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in 2003 from Western Oregon University and his law degree in 2006 from Willamette University.
The choice of Rayfield becomes official Feb. 1, when the Legislature opens its 35-day session for 2022. The speaker is voted on by the full House, but the choice of the majority party prevails. Speaker pro tem Paul Holvey of Eugene, who was not a candidate, will oversee the House until then.
Together, the House speaker and the Senate president control the lawmaking process by their authority to appoint members and leaders of committees — where the Oregon Legislature does its detailed work on legislation — and to assign bills to them. The presiding officers also are paid double the $33,000 annual salary earned by a regular member.
Rayfield will be the first since Democrat Vera Katz in 1985 to ascend to the speakership without having been caucus leader first. Katz also had been House co-chair of the budget panel.
Rayfield's stint as speaker will run through Jan. 9, 2023, when lawmakers elected on Nov. 8, 2022, will take office. The party can renominate him — if he is re-elected to his seat and Democrats maintain a majority — or choose someone else.
Fahey, 43, is a business consultant in her third term from District 14, which covers part of Lane County. She led the House Committee on Housing in the 2021 session, when bills to avert mass evictions and support emergency rental assistance were crafted, as well as a housing aid package totaling $765 million.
Her position is not subject to approval by the full House.
Others on the Democratic leadership team are Rep. Rob Nosse of Portland, majority whip; Rep. Andrea Valderrama of Portland, deputy majority whip, and Rep. Karin Power of Milwaukie, assistant majority leader.
What they said
Rayfield said in a statement after the caucus meeting, "I recognize this comes with tremendous responsibility at a pivotal moment for families across our state. I ran to be speaker to help guide the House as we collectively work to build a recovery that reaches all Oregonians. Our economy has picked up steam in recent months and I have tremendous optimism about our state's future. But after years of living in a global pandemic, I know many are still hurting.
"The omicron variant is contributing to workforce shortages and challenges for our students, educators and families. But I know there is a brighter future ahead and I am committed to working with both parties and both chambers to lead the entire state forward."
Fahey said this in a statement after the meeting:
"I thank Rep. Smith Warner for her courageous leadership, and I'm honored to have my colleagues' trust to lead this incredible caucus. As the pandemic continues to impact schools, small businesses, health care workers and working families, I stand committed to the bold, structural changes we need to meet this moment, build resiliency and ensure an equitable recovery."
Kotek also issued a statement after the vote.
"Our state is facing enormous challenges that legislators are ready to tackle in the upcoming session,' she said. "The Oregon House of Representatives will be well-served through this transition as the Legislature continues to do the people's work."
Smith Warner, following the vote, wrote, "It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the Oregon House Democrats through the challenges of the last few years. I am proud that we led with science and good faith in our pandemic response, centered the needs of those most impacted, both economically and health-wise, and acknowledged and addressed the continued racial justice imbalances in our state."
Rayfield is the first since 1985 not to have been the caucus leader before ascending to the speakership. Vera Katz had been House co-leader of the Legislature's joint budget committee before she became speaker. Then-Speaker Grattan Kerans of Eugene had left the House in a losing bid for state treasurer in 1984; then-Majority Leader Barbara Roberts of Portland was elected secretary of state that year.
When the House was split 30-30 after the 2010 election, for the first time in Oregon history, Democrats initially put forth then-Speaker Dave Hunt of Gladstone and Republicans had their leader, Bruce Hanna of Roseburg, as potential co-speakers. Democrats then substituted Rep. Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay, who eventually became co-speaker with Hanna in the 2011-13 cycle. Hunt led the Democratic caucus, which replaced him with Kotek on the day the 2011 session adjourned. Kotek advanced to the speakership after Democrats gained four seats in the 2012 election.
NOTE: Adds missing reference to Julie Fahey of Eugene as the new majority leader.
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