The Legislature Moves Toward Organization

“Planning for bipartisan coalition governance...” said House Speaker Dave Hunt the day after the November 2 election. The statement seems neither hopeful, nor hopeless. So how has the Legislature organized itself since the election?

The recounts are finished with no change to initial results. The Democrats still have a majority in the Senate, albeit this time by only one vote instead of three. Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, is still a senator; Alan Olsen, R-Canby, will replace Senator Martha Schrader. Senator Peter Courtney, D-Salem, will remain the Senate President. Senator Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, will co-chair the Full Ways and Means Committee, handing over control of the Senate Democratic Caucus to Sen. Diane Rosenbaum of Portland. Senate Committee assignments already have been decided.

Now to the exciting side of the Capitol, the House. With no majority in the House, there are two ways to elect a Speaker and organize. The first way is for any Democrat or Republican to break ranks and give the other side a majority, and along the way, to gain a little power for him or herself, but burn 29 bridges at the same time. The other way, which the House ultimately chose, is bi-partisan coalition governance, not a phrase you often hear in a building ruled by majorities.

For the first time in state history, the entire House had to work together, something it will have to get very good at if it wants to lead this state through a devastating economic and budget crisis.

By now you may know that Rep. Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, and Rep. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, will be Co-Speakers. Former Speaker Rep. Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, will lead the Democratic Caucus and Rep. Kevin Cameron, R-Salem, will lead the Republican Caucus.

It seems that all members of the Republican Caucus agreed Hanna would be the Co-Speaker, but, as for the Democratic Co-Speaker, that took some work. Why isn’t Hunt Co-Speaker? Let’s rewind and take a look at the process, even though lobbyists like us were not in the room as negotiations proceeded, nor should we be there or do we want to be there – so what follows is informed speculation.

With no member willing to break ranks, it was clear that bi-partisan coalition governance was needed.

Hunt was elected leader of a not-entirely-unified Democratic caucus and began negotiating with Republicans, hoping to secure the Co-Speakership himself. The other hurdle facing Hunt was that fact that each party needed to agree on the other party’s co-speaker. The D’s were not electing one co-speaker and the R’s another; they were all electing two co-speakers.

Behind the scenes, a bipartisan group of legislators tried and failed to gain support for a Rep. Hanna/Rep. Jeff Barker co-speakership. As it became clear that the Democratic caucus was fractured, and Republicans were still aching from a session in the superminority with Hunt as speaker, Hunt decided not to pursue the co-speakership.

This paved the way for Roblan to be elected as the Democrat’s co-speaker candidate. Since both parties need to agree on each other candidate, it seems that Republicans have received Roblan with, if not open, at least “bipartisan coalition governance” arms.

So who gets the Speaker's office on the 2nd floor? The answer is the Republicans. Hanna and his staff will take up residence in H-269, while Co-Speaker Roblan and his staff will take over the current Majority office down the hall. The Democrat caucus will move upstairs to the 3rd floor where the current minority office is, while the Republican caucus moves to Room 354, displacing the Judiciary commitee services staff. (Judiciary committee staff will move to Room 347, and some of the staff currently located in 347 will move upstairs to Room 453.)

The House still is negotiating the organization of committees. Leaders released names of committees this week, but committee membership likely won't be announced until Monday, Roblan said. We suspect that Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, will be the parties' respective leaders on the full Ways and Means Committee, but it is unclear how the two will share power.