This year, the state will learn what how the decisions made in 2022 will look like in practice.
This is likely to be most obvious in the political and governmental sphere. Oregon elected a new governor and three new members of Congress in November, but that is the beginning of the story, not the end.
Starting this month, Oregonians will compare incoming Gov. Tina Kotek with her predecessor, Gov. Kate Brown, and assess her new management of state government (and even much of local government).
In December, Kotek launched a series of listening stops, starting in Yamhill and Douglas counties, in partial fulfillment of her promise to keep in closer touch with the far-flung parts of Oregon. But there will be questions about the extent of communications – who is invited, for example, to the small groups she’ll meet? – and what results come of it.
Kotek presented herself as a stronger manager of state government, determined to push through not so much policy changes as more effective management of them. There are no lack of management issues, from fulfilling Measure 110 drug assistance to helping with renter issues and homelessness to better funding of the public defender system. Illicit drug operations are also a problem. All were challenging for the last administration, and Kotek said she would improve the state’s performance. These are long-term issues, but we should have a sense within a few months of how she will tackle them.
We’ll also see how the slightly less Democratic Legislature does as well, when lawmakers arrive later this month, and how Kotek relates to it in her new capacity. Governors with legislative experience have been known (not only in Oregon) to flounder in that area after making the transition. A bellwether was suggested by a headline from last campaign season: “Democrat Tina Kotek pledged Monday to make capping campaign contributions one of her top priorities if she’s elected governor.” Watch this touchy topic closely.
Legislative leadership will be newer than it has been in more than in a decade. (Kotek has been around the statehouse a long time but she’s there now in a new capacity; it’s worth remembering that all three major governor candidates last fall had been prominent legislators and resigned their seats earlier in the year to run statewide, so none are back.) In 2023, Oregonians can decide how this version of Democratic control compares to the last.
Are Oregon Democrats shrinking their philosophical tent? Last year’s primary ouster of Kurt Schrader, a Blue Dog Democrat in Congress, opened the question of what the governing party will look like, broad (with serious reach to the center) or narrow. The departure of former Democrat Betsy Johnson speaks to this, too. This year may give us some clues about how the party in Oregon is currently defining itself.
Republicans face questions of a similar nature. Many Oregon Republican nominees in 2022 were from the mainstream of the party (“normies” in the lingo of some Donald Trump backers) but a significant number of nominees and other candidates were not. For the second election cycle in a row, the party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate, Jo Rae Perkins, was a perennial candidate with personal issues and close alignment with QAnon, yet she easily won the party’s nomination, and more than 40% of the general election vote. Republicans in Oregon have serious structural problems looking ahead to 2023.
They also face some immediate questions. Here’s one: Will Republicans try to challenge the terms of the new constitutional amendment penalizing long-term absences from the session? Will they risk it? Will they be defanged?
How effective will Oregon’s two least-known brand new members of Congress be? Both Democrat Andrea Salinas in the 6th Congressional District and Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer in the 5th were elected with slim margins this year, and both can expect to be targeted by the opposing parties next time. In the coming year, will they be caught up in controversies? Will they build broad connections to their constituencies? What sort of issues or debates will they be associated with?
This year will be more than just about politics, of course. The farmworker overtime bill signed into law last April will come more fully into bloom this year. A proposed ballot issue to legalize sex work was short-circuited last year partly because of its descriptive language, and it may be back this year. Abortion laws could toughen even more in nearby states like Idaho, and Oregon will see ongoing pressure there. The appearance this winter of the “triple-demic” of COVID-19, the flu and the respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, either might fade or become an important driver this year with many hospital beds in the Northwest taken.
But in all of these cases, we might not need terrific insight to see what’s ahead. The signs were set in place last year. Now we begin the road ahead.
By Randy Stapilus of Oregon Capital Chronicle. Stapilius has researched and written about Northwest politics and issues since 1976 for a long list of newspapers and other publications. A former newspaper reporter and editor, and more recently an author and book publisher.