SALEM — The first weeks of a new session of the Legislature or Congress are usually reserved for much ceremony and at least short-lived goodwill between Democrats and Republicans. But 2019’s new start has too much unfinished business from 2018 for that. Among recent developments in Oregon politics in both capitols:
Val Hoyle will be sworn in Monday as the new state Bureau of Labor and Industries commissioner, known better as the BOLI.
Hoyle is a Democrat from Eugene who once served as House majority leader. She has been waiting since May to take office after winning a majority of the vote in the officially nonpartisan race — and therefore didn’t have to run a general election campaign. Hoyle left the Legislature to run for secretary of state in 2016. She lost that Democratic primary to current BOLI chief Brad Avakian, who then lost the general election to Republican Dennis Richardson.
Hoyle’s swearing-in is the first of the major 2019 political transitions that will continue Jan. 14 with the inauguration of Gov. Kate Brown and the swearing-in of new lawmakers. Things won’t really get down to business until Jan. 22, when the Legislature convenes.
The Legislature will start meeting the day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Usually lawmakers don’t go to business in Salem until February. But a law passed last year moved the start earlier so the odd-numbered-year “long session” can wrap up by June 30. In 2017, the session spilled over into the July 4 holiday, much to the consternation of many lawmakers in both parties.
The swearing-in of Hoyle and the opening of the Legislature could prove a volatile mix during a time when both Democrats and Republicans are on their best behavior. But this year, Hoyle comes into office right after Avakian released a scathing report finding a hostile work environment at the Capitol due to alleged sexual harassment. Avakian said complaints were mishandled by current legislative leaders.
The House and Senate will vote soon on the normally pro forma selection of the House speaker and president of the Senate. Both of the incumbents — Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland, in the House and Sen. Peter Courtney, D-Salem, in the Senate — have been renominated by the dominant Democratic caucuses in each chamber. But some Republicans have said Avakian’s report is evidence of a need for a leadership change at the top.
Neither incumbent is seriously in danger of not returning to either leadership post, but the debate could be nastier and noisier than in past sessions.
Former first lady accused of bad faith
The Oregon Government Ethics Commission has accused former Oregon first lady Cylvia Hayes, a Bend resident, of using her bankruptcy case to delay a payment or settlement in her ethics case.
The Statesman Journal reported Friday that attorneys for the commission made the claim in a Dec. 31 filing in Hayes’ bankruptcy proceeding. Hayes filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in July.
The ethics claim arose from dealings during the administration of her fiance, Gov. John Kitzhaber. Kitzhaber resigned in February 2015 amid allegations that Hayes and he were involved in influence peddling and conflicts of interest. Neither was prosecuted on the allegations, but the commission levied fines.
Kitzhaber settled his case early last year for $20,000. Hayes declared bankruptcy in June, saying she did not have the resources to pay a $124,000 court judgment against her won by The Oregonian newspaper.
Walden breaks ranks with Trump
Over the past two years, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, was one of the most consistent supporters of the agenda of President Donald Trump. Walden used his position as chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Commission to advance issues such as tax cuts, ending net neutrality and rolling back the Affordable Care Act.
But in the first week of the House under new Democratic majority, Walden broke with Trump and most members of the GOP House caucus.
Walden was one of seven House Republicans who voted for a Democratic-backed package to fund seven federal agencies that have been shut down since Dec. 22 as Trump battles Democrats over funding for a border wall with Mexico.
“I think it was the right vote and the right vote for my district,” Walden told the Malheur Enterprise on Friday.
Walden said federal workers in Oregon shouldn’t get caught in a battle being waged by Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
“I don’t understand why someone who is helping maintain Crater Lake National Park or working at the Vale BLM should be furloughed and not paid for their services rendered while Donald Trump, Pelosi and Schumer argue about how the wall will be funded.”
The group of bills passed 241-190. They now go to the Senate, which remains under Republican control.
Walden did join with the majority of the House GOP to vote against a separate bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security without the money Trump wants for the border wall.
“I want to fund the wall,” Walden told the Enterprise. “I am for border security.”
Walden used an example of Oregon geography to illustrate the current political situation in Washington.
“In Eastern Oregon, we have some box canyons, and it seems to me, on this issue, everyone went driving up a box canyon and no one asked ‘how are you getting out of this?’” Walden said.
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