A political showdown in the state House over political redistricting was put on hold amid reported COVID-19 cases traced to the Monday session in the Capitol.
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, announced just after 1 p.m. that a COVID-19 case had been traced to Monday’s House session. She canceled the House floor session until Wednesday morning.
“In the last hour, we were notified that a person who was in the Capitol yesterday has tested positive for COVID,” Kotek said.
By Tuesday evening, Kotek’s office announced the House would not convene until Saturday at the earliest to give time for COVID-19 tests.
No additional information was given on the identity of the person who tested positive. The House had been interrupted at least three times over the past year by outbreaks among lawmakers and staff.
Kotek’s announcement was made to a nearly empty chamber. The House was scheduled to vote on final passage of new legislative and congressional maps required to reflect population changes in the 2020 U.S. Census.
However, there were questions as to whether the GOP lawmakers would show up at all.
Republicans are considering a boycott or walkout to block a Democratic redistricting plan they say includes a broken promise by Kotek on partisan parity on the committee deciding the fate of legislative and congressional district maps for the 2022 election.
“We’ve been had,” said Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, a lead negotiator for GOP on redistricting for the 2022 election. “I don’t know if that makes me a sucker, but if it does, I’m a sucker with character.”
Bonham was reacting to the decision by Kotek, to unilaterally revise a deal giving Republicans equal say on the House Redistricting Committee.
The House and Senate redistricting committees had worked since August on the much-delayed political maps. Twelve legally required hearings were held and thousands of pieces of testimony and comments were gathered. Democrats and Republicans submitted a total of eight different maps.
But with the start of the special session, all legislation and committees had to be reconstituted.
The Senate had a committee of three Democrats and two Republicans, just as before. It voted 3-2 to recommend maps drawn by Democrats for 60 House, 30 Senate and six congressional districts. The full Senate approved the maps on an 18-11 party-line vote. The maps were then shipped over to the House.
In a surprise, if not completely unforeseen collision of partisan priorities, Kotek announced she was cleaving the redistricting committee in two.
“Separate committees are the only path the House now has to fulfill its responsibilities,” Kotek said.
A committee to vote on House and Senate maps would have the previously-brokered equality of Republicans and Democrats.
However, Kotek created a new committee of two Democrats and one Republican to consider the more controversial congressional maps.
“I am confident the maps passed by the Senate meet all statutory and constitutional requirements,” she said.
Kotek accurately forecast the storm of protest from Republicans, many of whom noted the speaker had already announced plans to run for governor in 2022.
“No map is perfect, and this is a very complex task,” Kotek said. “Ultimately, we are bound to do our constitutional duty and the job Oregonians elected us to do.
The committees sent both plans to the floor on Tuesday.
The legislative maps were recommended on a 5-3 vote. Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, voted with Democrats, saying the plan was better than alternatives that might come up if the House didn’t have its say.
The congressional maps were approved 2-0. Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany, the only Republican, refused to take part in the vote because of Kotek creating an automatic Democratic tilt to the panel.
With the plans now poised to be called up for final approval, Republicans are talking about one what one referred to as “the nuclear option” — refusing to attend the floor vote.
A GOP boycott could crash and burn months of work on new districts required by the 2020 U.S. Census.
Though Democrats hold a 37-22 majority in the House, the Oregon Constitution requires two-thirds of members be present to conduct any business.
No Republicans showed up for a scheduled 10 a.m. Monday session. When they were also absent for the 1 p.m. session, a boycott appeared in the making.
But Drazan confirmed the COVID-19 case was the reason for cancellation of the session and that the GOP caucus would follow recommendations on quarantining. Kotek had said any member who was vaccinated did not have to quarantine.
A walkout wasn’t off the table. The COVID-19 incident just paused a decision, which Drazan said she hoped would lead to a compromise.
“In the meantime, we will continue ongoing conversations with Democratic leadership on the redistricting process,” Drazan said in a statement. “It’s in the best interest of Oregonians that we salvage an opportunity to pass fair maps.”
Democrats said they were moving ahead with the maps.
Republicans were left with a boycott. Their absence could force additional concessions from Democrats.
If no maps from the Legislature are delivered to the Oregon Supreme Court by Sept. 27, the court has ruled it will take lawmakers out of the process, as outlined in the Constitution. The legislative maps would be drawn by Secretary of State Shemia Fagan.
A five-judge panel created by Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walter would decide on the six-seat congressional map.
Both parties on Monday made statements accusing the other of partisan gamesmanship.
Democrats called out Republicans for using a constitutional parliamentary rule to leverage a role beyond their minority status in both chambers.
Republicans said the maneuvers were legal and had been used by Democrats in the past. They accused Kotek of reneging on an agreement, which they said would come back to hurt future negotiations, whether she is speaker or governor.