Rob Wagner nominated to be next Oregon Senate president
Rob Wagner, who helped keep Democrats in the majority, is their nominee to be the next president of the Oregon Senate.
The Lake Oswego Democrat was chosen Friday night, Nov. 18, at a meeting of the 17 incoming Democratic senators at Gleneden Beach.
Wagner will have to await a vote of the full Senate on Jan. 9, when the Oregon Legislature opens its 2023 session. But the choice of the majority party usually prevails. The term is for two years.
Wagner had this statement after the Democratic caucus:
"During the 2023 session, the Oregon Senate will be a force for positive change into every corner of the state.
"I look forward to working with my colleagues to build on our culture of inclusion and openness — across the aisle and across the state — to make sure that Oregonians across the state feel represented and supported by the work we do."
Wagner will succeed Democrat Peter Courtney of Salem, who was thrust into the job in 2003, when the chamber was tied 15-15 and Democrats and Republicans negotiated a power-sharing agreement. Courtney went on to hold the job for a record 20 years, but he did not seek re-election Nov. 8 to the Senate after a record 38 years in the Legislature.
Courtney praised Wagner in a statement the day after Wagner's nomination:
"He's smart and can handle this responsibility. He will serve the Senate well. I look forward to helping him make a smooth transition into the coming session."
The previous record-holders in the presidency were Democrats Jason Boe of Reedsport and John Kitzhaber of Roseburg, each at eight years. Kitzhaber went on to be elected governor four times. Joseph Simon of Portland also held the position eight years, but in nonconsecutive terms in the 19th century.
As majority leader, Wagner led the successful effort by Democrats to keep the majority they have had since 2005, although they had an apparent net loss of one seat from a supermajority of 18.
Wagner had competition — vote counts are not usually announced — but his selection was not a surprise.
For the past 50 years, since Boe became president after a bipartisan coalition held sway for the previous 16 years, the presiding officer usually has been the majority-party leader. The exceptions: Courtney, Kitzhaber and Ed Fadeley of Eugene, who was a compromise choice in 1983 after majority Democrats deadlocked.
On Monday, Nov. 21, Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp of Bend — who will lead Republicans for a second cycle — took the unusual step of criticizing Wagner's nomination in advance of Jan. 9. His statement:
"I am disappointed that Democrats' first step in preparation for the 2023 session is to designate a new nominee for Senate president without seeking any input from Republicans. Senator Wagner has shown he is untrustworthy, deeply partisan, and doesn't have the necessary skills to run the Senate in a bipartisan fashion. There are no votes in the Senate Republican caucus for Senator Wagner."
However, it is not customary in Oregon for the majority party to consult the minority party in its nominations for presiding officer. On occasion, as a show of unity, the minority party will go along with the majority party's choice — as Courtney sometimes did when he was leader of minority Democrats in the Oregon House in the 1990s. But the usual ritual on opening day is for majority and minority party members to vote for their nominees in each chamber.
Knopp himself was leader of the Republican majority in the Oregon House in 2003 under Speaker Karen Minnis.
Along with the House speaker, the Senate president appoints members and leaders of committees — where the Oregon Legislature does most of its work — and assigns bills to committees. They are the key figures in the lawmaking process.
House Democrats nominated Rep. Dan Rayfield of Corvallis for a full two-year term as speaker. Rayfield has held the job since Democrat Tina Kotek of Portland, who held it for a record nine years, resigned in January to make a successful bid for governor.
The presiding officers are paid double the annual salary (currently around $33,000) that members earn. Legislators also are paid a daily allowance each day of a session (160 days in odd-numbered years, 35 days in even-numbered years) and during periods between sessions known as "legislative days."
Wagner, who turns 50 the day after the start of the 2023 session, was initially appointed to the Senate in 2018 after Democrat Richard Devlin of Tualatin resigned to accept an appointment to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. Oregon has two seats on the council, and they are salaried positions that cannot be held by sitting legislators.
Wagner had been a lobbyist for the American Federation of Teachers/Oregon for a decade until 2012, and was an official at Portland Community College before his appointment to the Senate.
Wagner graduated from Lake Oswego High School.
He earned a bachelor's degree in 1997 from Portland State University, and a master's degree in public policy in 2001 from George Washington University. In between he was a legislative aide to state Rep. Chris Beck of Portland.
Wagner was re-elected to his District 19 seat with 66% of the vote Nov. 8.
He became majority leader in mid-2020 after Ginny Burdick of Portland stepped down. Burdick remained in the Senate until a year ago, when she took Devlin's seat on the power council.
Unofficial final results put Democrats at 17 seats, Republicans at 12, and one not affiliated with either party.
Republicans chose Sen. Tim Knopp of Bend for a second two-year round as their leader.
Democrats also nominated Sen. James Manning Jr. of Eugene as president pro tem, a largely ceremonial position, but one that is part of the leadership team. The full Senate also votes on that position, which entails presiding over sessions when the president is unavailable.
Manning also was initially appointed to the Senate in 2017. He had spent 24 years in the Army. He was re-elected to his District 7 seat.
Manning will be the first Black man to be president pro tem. Margaret Carter of Portland was the first Black woman to be president pro tem when she was in the Senate in 2005.
Sen. Kate Lieber of Portland, who is in the middle of the term she was elected to in District 14 in 2020, is the new majority leader. As a caucus position, it is not subject to a vote of the full Senate.
The leader speaks for the party and controls the timing of votes on bills. The leader also raises money for and oversees campaigns of party candidates for the Senate.
Lieber, 55, is an instructor at Portland Community College and a lawyer. She is a former deputy district attorney for Multnomah County. She is the first lesbian in the Senate.
"I look forward to continuing our work in the 2023 legislative session to focus on priorities for everyday Oregonians: fighting to keep Oregonians housed, safe in their communities and afforded economic opportunity. This will be a pivotal session, with impacts that will reach into every community in Oregon. I'm thrilled to be joined by this amazing, diverse team of Democratic leaders."
The other Democrats on the leadership team:
• Deputy majority leader: Sen. Janeen Sollman of Hillsboro.
• Majority whips: Sens. Sara Gelser Blouin of Corvallis and Lew Frederick of Portland.
• Assistant leaders: Sens. Wlnsvey Campos of Aloha and Kayse Jama of Portland.
NOTE: Adds comment from Peter Courtney on the nomination of a successor as Oregon Senate president.
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