Tina Kotek addressing the legislature
House Speaker Tina Kotek's last day will be Jan. 21, after which she’ll focus on her campaign for governor. (Photo by Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, announced Thursday that she is stepping down from the Legislature and ending her tenure as longest-serving House speaker in history.

After her last day on Jan. 21, she’ll focus on her campaign for governor.

She leaves shortly before the February legislative session begins, a time during which she would not have been able to raise money for her gubernatorial campaign due to House rules.

Kotek has represented north and northeast Portland for 15 years and spent nine of those years as leader of the House. Kotek was the first openly lesbian House speaker in Oregon and in the country when she took on the role in 2013. 

A spokesperson from Kotek’s office issued a statement outlining victories she claims she was instrumental in during her time in office. They included the passage of the Student Success Act that added $1 billion a year to Oregon’s public schools budget, as well as legislation expanding access to affordable housing, slowing the effects of climate change, protecting reproductive rights, year-over-year increases in the state’s minimum wage and new paid family and medical leave insurance programs. 

Kotek said in a statement that “having achieved these victories as Speaker, I am shifting my attention to ensure that they are implemented in ways that improve the lives of people in every corner of Oregon.”

Originally from Pennsylvania, Kotek came to Oregon in the late 1980s to study religion at the University of Oregon.

She went on to earn a master’s degree in international studies from the University of Washington. She later returned to Oregon as a public policy advocate for the Oregon Food Bank, and then served as policy director at Children First for Oregon, a non-profit that helps youth in the foster care system. She was there until 2006, when she was elected to the House. 

Multnomah County’s five Commissioners will appoint a new representative to fill the vacancy.

The House will need to select a new speaker prior to the February session or lean on Speaker Pro-Tem Paul Holvey, D-Eugene.

Kotek’s stiffest competition in the Democratic primary for governor is state Treasurer Tobias Read. Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan announced Thursday that former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof didn’t meet constitutional residency requirements, though Kristof may appeal that decision. Kristof has raised significantly more money than either Kotek or Read.

Kotek’s decision follows Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, telling his colleagues via text message on Tuesday that he will not run for re-election. Courtney has held his post at the top of the Senate since 2003 and had been hinting at retiring since 2017. His term runs through the end of 2022.

In the text to colleagues that his office later shared with journalists, Courtney wrote, “It has been an honor and a privilege to have been allowed to serve locally on the Salem City Council and for all these years in the Oregon State Legislature. I hope I’ve helped.”

The 78-year old spent 16 years on the Salem City Council and has been in the Senate since 1999, and is the longest-serving legislator in Oregon’s history. 

In a statement on Kotek’s resignation, Courtney wrote that Kotek “will always be a historic figure in the Legislature.”

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