The House chambers at the Oregon State Capitol on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. (Photo by Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

For the first time in two decades, the Oregon Senate will have a new president. 

Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego and the current majority leader, on Friday won a private vote of the 17 incoming Senate Democrats. He’ll take the reins from retiring Salem Democrat Peter Courtney, who has served as Senate president since 2003 and has been a legislator for 38 years. 

Rob Wagner

“Senator Wagner is a good choice for the next Senate President,” Courtney said in a statement. “He’s smart and can handle this responsibility. He will serve the Senate well. I look forward to helping him make a smooth transition into the coming session.”

Wagner will join current Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, and House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, who won re-election to their respective caucus leadership teams last week. House Republicans won’t elect their caucus leaders until Dec. 6. 

In a statement, Wagner said he would ensure the Oregon Senate will be a “force for positive change into every corner of the state.” 

“I look forward to working with my colleagues to build on our culture of inclusion and openness – across the aisle and across the state – to make sure that Oregonians across the state feel represented and supported by the work we do,” he continued.

He won’t formally become Senate president until the Senate convenes in January and votes publicly on its next leader. All 17 Democrats have sworn to support him, making that vote a formality. 

Sens. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, and Tim Knopp, R-Bend, confer on the Senate floor on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (Photo by Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

That’s a necessity, as Knopp and Senate Republicans objected to Wagner’s selection. Knopp noted in a statement that Democrats narrowly eked out a majority in the state Senate, winning  fewer than 3,000 combined votes in the Ashland-based 3rd Senate District and Gladstone-based 20th Senate District. Knopp said that proves voters wanted bipartisan collaboration. 

“Senator Wagner has shown he is untrustworthy, deeply partisan and doesn’t have the necessary skills to run the Senate in a bipartisan fashion,” Knopp said. “There are no votes in the Senate Republican caucus for Senator Wagner. If Democrats are intent on uniting Oregon to fix our problems, Republicans are all in. If Democrats want to run a progressive agenda to pay back their supporters, they can expect total opposition.”

Beginning in January, Democrats will hold 17 of 30 seats in the Senate and 35 of 60 in the House – slightly down from the 18 and 37 they now occupy. They slipped below the three-fifths supermajority needed to pass any bills raising taxes. 

Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, presides over the House on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (Photo by Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

An affirmation

House Democrats, including Majority Leader Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, saw the election results as an affirmation that voters supported Democratic policies. 

“Voters saw a vision from Democrats that recognized the everyday challenges that Oregon families face, offered real solutions to the state’s problems and stayed true to our shared Oregonian values,” Fahey said shortly after the election. “Democrats in the House will continue to fight for Oregonains every day, and we are ready to lead this state into the future.”

Incoming Democratic representatives renominated Fahey to her position, along with Rayfield as speaker. Both took over those jobs early this year, after Gov.-elect Tina Kotek, who was House speaker, resigned to focus on her campaign. 

“I was first elected to serve in this role during a period of significant transition, but we came together in a bipartisan way under challenging circumstances early this year to invest in education, housing, rural Oregon and support for working families,” Rayfield said in a statement. “I’m eager to build on the trust we’ve formed and to get to work to support all corners of the state in addressing homelessness, improving community safety, strengthening education and building an economy that works for all Oregonians.”

Other new or returning members of leadership include:

Senate president pro tempore: James Manning, D-Eugene.
Senate majority leader: Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton.
Senate deputy majority leader: Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro.
Senate majority whips: Sara Gelser Blouin, D-Corvallis, and Lew Frederick, D-Portland.
Senate assistant majority leaders: Kayse Jama, D-Portland, and Wlnsvey Campos, D-Portland.
House speaker pro tem: Paul Holvey, D-Eugene.
House majority whip: Andrea Valderrama, D-Portland.
House deputy majority whip: Rob Nosse, D-Portland.
House assistant majority leaders: Pam Marsh, D-Ashland,  Jason Kropf, D-Bend and Dacia Grayber, D-Tigard.


Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Julia Shumway, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.

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