SALEM — Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate are preparing their teams for the upcoming 2019 session of the Legislature. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, is stepping down but staying on at a key U.S. House panel. And — surprise! — Deschutes County is growing rapidly. The news from in and around state politics in this week’s Capitol Roundup:
Wilson is new House GOP leader
Republicans have selected Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, as the new House minority leader for the 2019 session that starts Jan. 22. He will replace Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, who has served as leader since 2012. McLane chose to step down from the top House GOP spot after an election that left Republicans at a 38-22 disadvantage.
House Democrats have more than a three-fifths “supermajority,” which will allow them to pass tax legislation without needing Republican votes.
McLane, who was first elected in 2010 and became leader in his second term, will continue to serve in the House but without a leadership position.
Wilson said he would lean on his predecessor for help.
“Rep. McLane has given so much to this caucus and to our state over the last six years,” Wilson said. “It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to follow in his footsteps.”
Wilson knows he has his work cut out for him, telling Oregon Public Broadcasting that with its relatively small numbers, the House Republicans are “not even legislative speed bumps” for the upcoming Democratic agenda.
Courtney to return as Senate President
Despite rumblings of a possible coup, Senate Democrats have chosen Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, as their nominee to retain the position next year. The full Senate — Democrats and Republicans — has to vote for Senate president, but with an 18-12 majority, Courtney, the Legislature’s longest-serving lawmaker, is a sure bet. Some Democrats had complained that Courtney has let progressive legislation passed by the more activist House stall in the consensus-oriented Senate. The split in the Democratic delegation was underlined by Courtney’s announcement that Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, and Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, would be “co-co-chairs” of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, the powerful House-Senate panel that handles spending legislation. Courtney split the Senate side of the job between Steiner Hayward, a reliably liberal lawmaker, and Johnson, a moderate who ran unopposed as a Democrat, Republican and Independent in the last election. They will share the gavel with the co-chair from the House, Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis.
House Democrats stay with team
House Democrats earlier voted to nominate House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, to retain her position. Like Courtney in the Senate, the full House will vote on speaker, but the Democrats’ 38-22 majority ensures Kotek will get the nod. The House majority leader will continue to be Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland.
Senate GOP leaders still to come
The last group to choose its leadership team for 2019 are Senate Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Jackie Winters, R-Salem, was a consensus choice last year after the caucus couldn’t decide between Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, and Sen. Herman Baertschiger, R-Grants Pass. Winters is a moderate who has joined Democrats on some key votes, particularly on health care. She has a longstanding working relationship with Senate President Courtney — they represent different parts of the Salem area. Unlike McLane, Winters has expressed no desire to step aside for new leadership. The GOP Senate caucus will select its 2019 leaders during the week of Dec. 10 when lawmakers come to Salem for a series of informational hearings.
D.C. update — Walden stays on panel
Walden will lose the gavel as chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee when Democrats take control of the House in January. But Walden, whose district includes Bend, will be staying on the panel. He was designated the ranking Republican on the committee by the GOP House caucus on Friday. Walden will be starting his 11th term representing Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District. He is the only Republican among Oregon’s two senators and five House members.
Deschutes County tops growth list
The governor’s budget proposal includes several pages of general economic and demographic information, including a note that Deschutes County was the fastest-growing county in the state between 2007 and 2017. “Although growth slowed considerably during the recent recession, the county led the state with 21.9 percent growth over the past decade.” Washington County, near Portland, was the only other county with a growth rate above 15 percent. Three rural counties lost population: Sherman, Harney and Grant.
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