Does Oregon Need a New Speaker?
Speaker Tina Kotek is a fantastic leader...if you are a progressive Democrat likely to reside in the Portland Metro area. Speaker Kotek even got the opportunity to speak at the Democratic National Convention about how we here in Oregon are "leading the country by advancing progressive policies that level the playing field and create an economy that works for all Americans". During her time as Speaker Kotek has overseen the passage of a minimum wage increase, the Coal to Clean bill, paid sick leave, among other progressive causes.
Now if you are a dyed in the wool liberal you probably love that we have Tina Kotek as Speaker and maybe you should be. With a Democratic Governor who seems almost adverse to bold leadership, having a progressive champion like Kotek driving the policy agenda in the House I imagine is comforting to many Democratic voters in Oregon.
In the last session, maybe that worked for you. Democrats got some big legislative wins, especially on the minimum wage. but from what I can tell about this upcoming legislative session, that style is not what will be necessary to meet the challenges that the legislature is going to face this go around.
Primarily driven by the increased cost of PERS and reduced federal dollars for Medicaid we are now staring down a 1.7 billion dollar budget gap if we want to continue services at current levels, baring someone presenting creative cuts or some out of the box solutions to save money. Additionally because the legislature kicked the can down the road on a transportation package in order to pursue the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, funding for roads, bridges, ect will also need to be addressed this session.
The solutions to these problems are not partisan solutions. Because both tax increases or a tax restructuring as well as getting funding for a transportation package would require a 3/5th vote in both legislative bodies, this is not something Democrats can do on their own. In fact I imagine you would need a handful of Republicans to get something passed because there is no guarantee that you could get all the Democrats in vulnerable seats to vote for a tax increase and any Republican who went off on their own to vote with the Democrats would immediately have bulls-eye on their back during primary season.
So is Tina Kotek the person who can hammer out a bipartisan compromise to address the state's budget problems? Well after ramming a progressive agenda down Republican's throats last session, I get the feeling that someone else would have more luck getting that task accomplished.
So if you are content with a legislative session that focuses on things like rent control and eventually passes some version of Kate Brown's weak tea budget that raises taxes on things like liquor and tobacco because they couldn't find the political capital to do anything else, then support another stint for Tina Kotek as Speaker. But if you think our state has bigger more structural problems that need bipartisan solutions then maybe we should start looking for someone else.