The Battle for the Gavel

As legislative candidates hit the hustings, some are plotting who will hold key leadership positions when the Oregon legislature convenes in 2013.The general election is a month away, but the plot is already thickening over who will be in control in the Oregon legislature after all the votes are counted. What's happening out of public sight is a combination of inside baseball and roller derby.

If Democrats regain control of the Oregon House, there appears little doubt Portland Rep. Tina Kotek will ascend to become House Speaker. Rep. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, who served as co-speaker in the 2011 and 2012 sessions, is running for an open Senate seat.

The bigger question is who takes over for Kotek as Democratic leader. Rep. Val Hoyle, D-Eugene, is the only declared candidate, but rumors have circulated that Rep. Tobias Read, D-Beaverton, is considering a bid for the post, which is complicated by his departure from Nike and search for a new job. 

Another logical option could be Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, but he may prefer to keep his job as co-chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee for a third consecutive term. Another candidate who could emerge is Rep. Chris Garrett, D-Lake Oswego, who assumed the co-chairmanship of House Business and Labor after Rep. Mike Schaufler, D-Happy Valley, was stripped of the role after a scandal.

Earlier this year it looked as if there could be a rebellion in the House Republican caucus, with a handful of new lawmakers eager to be more aggressive in opposing Democrats, including Governor Kitzhaber. However, events — including a scandal that led Rep. Matt Wingard, R-Wilsonville, to drop his bid for re-election — seem to have cemented Roseburg Rep. Bruce Hanna's position as GOP leader or speaker if Republicans claim 31 or more House seats this fall.

Hanna, who enjoys a warm working relationship with Kitzhaber, which eased passage in 2011 of major gubernatorial initiatives, could still face a challenge from Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, who favors a harder-line approach to policy issues. Richardson has served as the GOP co-chair of Ways and Means.

The sudden retirement of Senator Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, and the primary victory of Tim Knopp over sitting GOP Senator Chris Telfer from Bend have sparked conversation about Senate Republican caucus leadership. Senator Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, has mounted what could be described as loyal opposition in the Senate, but some expect Knopp, a former House majority leader, to inject more fire in caucus debates. Knopp has made no pubic gestures to unseat Ferrioli, but the caucus has edged to the right and may want a fresh voice leading it.

The Senate Democratic caucus remains Peter Courtney's team. The five-term Senate President isn't in jeopardy of losing his job unless Republicans manage to pull off an improbable two-seat swing in the election. Most observers think the Senate will remain 16-14 in control of the Democrats.

Sooner or later someone in the Democratic caucus needs to start thinking about a post-Courtney Senate. There have been whiffs that the Salem Democrat may retire when his term ends in 2014, but Courtney always has been an unpredictable political force, either by dint of personality or on purpose. One issue that could keep his political juices cooking is a major Capitol restoration project, which could take a couple of legislative terms to adopt and fund. 

Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland, is the most obvious choice to succeed Courtney. After her, there doesn't seem to be a lot of interest in the job, but that could be because no one thinks there is a vacancy in the foreseeable future. Senator Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, is expected to reprise his role as co-chair of Ways and Means, which means the powerful budget-writing committee will have experienced hands at the wheel in 2013. That could mean a speedier budget approval process, including for K-12 schools, a biennial goal of lawmakers.

There is a chance, though not a high one, that Democrats and Republicans will be evenly split in both the House and Senate. That could lead to interesting pairings in both chambers. Presumably it would be Hanna and Kotek sharing the gavel in the House. Unlike Hanna and Roblan, who both hail from rural parts of the state, Hanna would match wits every day with Kotek, a Portland liberal.

Courtney began his historic five terms as Senate President as a compromise choice when Republicans and Democrats each held 15 seats in the Senate. Instead of equal power-sharing agreement like the Oregon House adopted in 2011 and 2012, senators worked out a way to share power, with Ashland Republican Lenn Hannon taking command of Ways and Means. If the Senate wound up split after this year's election, it would be interesting to see if senators opted for a similar power-sharing arrangement to what the House employed, with universal praise for its collaboration and results.

One of the more intriguing match-ups in the 2013 Oregon legislature involves current House Co-Speaker Bruce Hanna and Democratic Leader Tina Kotek.