SALEM — Senate President Peter Courtney, one of the Oregon Legislature’s most powerful members, has yet to decide on whether to stay on the job or retire.
The 74-year-old Democrat contemplates retirement after achieving career milestones such as being the most-tenured Senate president and longest-serving current lawmaker, with 33 years in office.
“I haven’t decided what I’m going to do. … I go back and forth when I do think about it,” Courtney said in an emotional telephone interview with The Oregonian.
If Courtney finishes his full term, which ends in 2019, he will hold the record for longest-ever serving Oregon legislator.
Courtney downplayed his role in Senate lawmaking, calling himself a “rank-and-file” member and a “player-coach.” But Courtney wields considerable power by controlling committee assignments, presiding over voting and directing Senate operations.
He secured millions to renovate his beloved Salem YMCA. A new $10 million footbridge spanning a side channel of the Willamette River in Salem was named for him.
Courtney retired in 2014 from his job as assistant to the president of Western Oregon University. He is receiving his public pension from that position but not from his legislative job, since he hasn’t retired.
Despite Courtney’s uncertain future, lawmakers close to him said he hasn’t confided any plans to leave office.
“I’ve had no conversation with the Senate president on this subject,” said his friend, Sen. Jackie Winters, a Republican.
“Obviously he’s got to be thinking about it. But that’s all I know,” Majority Leader Ginny Burdick said. “I haven’t pushed him for an answer. He’s a professional. He’ll figure out in his own time.”
Whether he decides to retire or not, it’s clear Courtney has struggled for years with his eventual political exit.
“The hardest thing for me to do is to leave politics because I am afraid of retirement,” he said in a 2015 commencement address to Western Oregon University graduates. “You know, there’s gotta be that time in life you say, ‘I’ve done all I can do, I can’t do anymore.’ I know they’ve got these cool phrases, ‘You’ve gotta move on, you’ve gotta let go.’
“I’m too old to know those words. So I’ll put it in my words. You gotta say, ‘I’ve done all I can do. Peter, you gotta go, you gotta mosey.’”