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Rep. Tawna Sanchez would be first Native American to head the Legislature's key committee.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer listen to a speech by State Rep. Tawna Sanchez during a 2019 press conference at the Oregon Food Bank. Sanchez has just been named as co-leader of the Legislature's budget-writing body.Rep. Tawna Sanchez, a Democrat from Portland, will be the next House co-leader of the Oregon Legislature's joint budget committee.

Sanchez's appointment was announced Friday, Jan. 21, by Speaker-nominee Dan Rayfield, a Democrat from Corvallis who currently holds that position.

Her appointment would take effect upon Rayfield's selection as speaker by the full House when the 2022 session opens Feb. 1. The nominee of the majority party usually prevails. Rayfield succeeds Tina Kotek, a Democrat from Portland who resigned both the speakership and her seat as of Jan. 22 to focus on her bid for governor in the Democratic primary May 17.

Speaker pro tem Paul Holvey of Eugene, who was not a candidate for speaker, will oversee the House until the session opens.PMG FILE PHOTO - SANCHEZ

The speaker appoints the leaders and members of all committees. Rayfield said there will be other changes.

Sanchez would be the first Native American to hold one of the Legislature's most influential positions. Then-Sen. Margaret Carter of Portland, who is Black, did so in the 2009 session as the first person of color.

The current Senate co-leader of the committee is Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, a Democrat from Beaverton.

"I'm honored to have the opportunity to serve Oregon in a new way at this critical juncture in our state's history," Sanchez said in a statement released by Rayfield. "I am committed to building a recovery that brings a brighter future for Oregonians from every background and ZIP code. Affordable housing, access to quality child care, family wage jobs, behavioral health support and a strong education system will be pillars of a robust recovery that extends to every corner of the state."

Sanchez is the director of family services at the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland.

When Sanchez was elected in 2016 from District 43 in Northeast Portland — Democrat Lew Frederick vacated the seat as he moved to the Senate — she was only the second tribal member (Shoshone-Bannock, Ute and Carrizo) in Oregon history to win a legislative seat.

Sanchez was a member of the budget committee during the 2021 session, when she also led the House Committee on Behavioral Health. She was among the legislators who crafted the $470 million plan that lawmakers passed to overhaul mental health services.

Among them are support for mobile crisis intervention teams, housing and licensed residential treatment centers, plus a network of certified community behavioral health clinics to provide treatment for mental health and substance abuse. The plan includes money for the start-up of the 988 crisis line, which begins nationwide July 16, and expanding and diversifying the mental health workforce.

"Rep. Sanchez has shown a tremendous commitment to stand up for social justice and center equity in our state budgets," Rayfield said. "She has built trust among her fellow legislators and has become a moral compass for our caucus."

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