House Democrats Shake Up the Caucus After Sine Die

Oregon House Democrats ousted Rep. Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, as their caucus leader Thursday night and voted in Rep. Tina Kotek, D-North Portland.

The elections came just a half hour after the legislature adjourned Thursday afternoon. Throughout the legislative session, rumors circulated of division and discontent within the caucus, and much of the blame fell to Hunt.

The June 30 post-session caucus election had been scheduled for months, according to Hunt.

Other sources said the election was part of a deal worked out in December to end a power struggle within the caucus. Hunt's peers elected him caucus leader in December, following an election that left the House split with 30 Republicans and 30 Democrats. Hunt was Speaker of the House before the election, but he was replaced by Rep. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, whom many thought would be able to work better with Republicans. Hunt then narrowly won the vote for the caucus leadership post.

This session, Kotek mounted a quiet campaign to replace Hunt as leader. While no one will say what the final vote count was, sources say Kotek won by a wide margin. Other caucus leadership positions also were contested, but those vote counts reportedly haven't been announced. House Democrats also will need to choose a new Co-Speaker Pro Tempore (a deputy Co-Speaker of sorts), a position Kotek previously held.

Kotek is seen by many as more progressive than Hunt. She is serving her third term in the House and has spent most of her legislative career focusing on health and human services issues. This session she served as one of the leaders of the Human Services budget subcommittee.

While it is fairly unusual for a caucus to elect new leaders in the middle of an election cycle, the House Democrats have done so after the last few legislative sessions. House Republicans said they have no immediate plans to hold caucus elections.

What's next for Hunt? Some speculate he may run for Clackamas County Commissioner.

Photo: Rep. Tina Kotek, D-North Portland.