Rep. Bynum ends speaker bid, but leaders pledge changes
Rep. Janelle Bynum of Clackamas has ended her bid for speaker of the Oregon House in exchange for pledges by current Democratic leaders to ease the way for members of color to advocate their issues and advance in the chamber.
The tacit agreement, which members of color endorsed Tuesday, Jan. 5, clears the way for Rep. Tina Kotek of Portland to win a fifth two-year term as speaker when the 2021 Legislature opens on Jan. 11. It also averts a potentially messy fight among the 37 majority Democrats, a record nine of whom are members of color.
In a statement Tuesday accepting the pledges, the members of color — which include two senators — said: "We are reminded at the historical lack of BIPOC representation in the halls of the Oregon Capitol with the acknowledgement that this is the most diverse legislature Oregon has ever had."
The Oregon Legislature got its first elected members of color in the 1972 election.
Although members of color have been committee leaders — and even president pro tem of the Oregon Senate, a largely ceremonial position — none has been a presiding officer or party leader in Oregon history. The House speaker and Senate president control the flow of legislation through their appointment of committee members and leaders, assignments of bills to committees and scheduling of chamber votes.
Bynum, who is Black, announced Nov. 16 she would go ahead with a public vote in the House chamber on opening day although a closed-door Democratic caucus chose Kotek as their nominee. (No vote tally was announced.) But behind-the-scenes negotiations took place in an attempt to resolve the dispute and avoid a potential coalition with the 23 minority Republicans.
The most recent floor fights over the speakership occurred in 1977 and 1979, when a handful of dissident Democrats wrung political concessions before the majority's choices for speaker were elected. The Oregon Constitution bars members from being paid if they have not organized their chamber within five days.
Kotek and House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner of Portland announced these steps Monday, Jan. 4:
• Positions for one or more members of color on the House leadership team.
• A special committee that will propose changes to promote more diverse representation and greater public engagement of communities of color in the lawmaking process.
• Staff support for the Black, Indigenous, People of Color legislative caucus, which includes senators. Current senators are Democrats Lew Frederick of Portland and James Manning Jr. of Eugene.
• Language translation services in the Capitol to allow lawmakers to communicate with all of their constituents.
• Priority for all people, not just those of color, who are most affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the resulting economic downturn and the Labor Day wildfires.
"Individually, these are modest steps," the leaders said in their statement. "Taken together, and with an eye toward future bold ideas, we believe these actions will begin the process of transforming the Oregon Legislature and the decisions that emerge from it."
In another part of their statement, they named Bynum, who is starting her third term:
"For years, Rep. Bynum has refused to accept the status quo systems of power in the state. We appreciate and support Rep. Bynum's ongoing leadership. She, along with other members of the BIPOC Caucus and other community leaders, has continually pointed out structural problems big and small that conspire to exclude diverse voices in the Legislature."
A response from the members of color caucus released Tuesday said the House leaders' statement "represents meaningful reform, but it is merely a beginning in the change our state demands.
"In the weeks and months ahead, we stand united as members of the BIPOC Caucus and as Democrats in our commitment to continue advancing bold measures and effect change that will make Oregon a better place for all."
Representatives of color in addition to Bynum who will sit in the new session are Teresa Alonso León of Woodburn, WLnsvey Campos of Aloha, Diego Hernandez of Portland, Mark Meek of Oregon City, Khanh Pham of Portland, Ricky Ruiz of Gresham, Andrea Salinas of Lake Oswego and Tawna Sanchez of Portland. Outgoing Rep. Akasha Lawrence Spence of Portland, who did not seek a full term in the Nov. 3 election, also signed the statement.
Bynum said on Twitter she was ending her current bid to become speaker, but would not forgo a future run:
"My fervent hope is to lead the Oregon House of Representatives as speaker, and I look forward to the day in the near future where Oregon state representatives are able to vote with pride and unity to elect me to lead the chamber.
"Until that day comes, I will continue to lead with dignity, a sense of fairness, an eye for our collective economic prosperity and a deep, unbridled love for the children of this state."
NOTE: Fixes incorrect date of Bynum statement.
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