The Oregon Legislature ended its 5-month-long session last weekend. Oregon legislators set ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they pumped money into wildfire relief, and they extended protections for renters and homeowners hit hard by the pandemic. They also set up an intriguing fight for next year over political redistricting. House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Portland Democrat, spoke to OPB’s Tiffany Camhi about the legislative session and what comes next.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Tiffany Camhi: Back in December, you said that you expected to focus on crisis response and helping people in the wake of COVID-19. And if you can remember all the way back to last year’s massive wildfires, how would you rate your efforts on that?
Tina Kotek: I think the legislature and legislators delivered. I would give us a solid A. We didn’t get everything, but I think we delivered for the state. We have dealt with month after month of different crises, and we delivered on our goals.
Camhi: The Legislature set one of the nation’s most ambitious targets for switching to 100% clean energy. Among other steps, that requires Portland General Electric and Pacific Power to eliminate carbon emissions by 2040. What needs to happen to actually meet those goals?
Kotek: It’s a great question, because whether it’s the pandemic or housing or wildfire, all of those things are also in the context of the climate crisis that we’re dealing with. House Bill 2021 brings us to 100% clean electricity by 2040, making sure that the electricity either generated in state or from out of state is coming from clean sources. It’s a tremendously important bill, and we’re just very excited that we could do that on top of all the other things we were dealing with.
Camhi: Unlike in previous years, you and other Democratic leaders were able to prevent Republicans from walking out to block votes or using other legislative stalling tactics to slow down the process. One way you did that was through a compromise on redistricting. You promised full parity on the committee that will draw new districts next year. How confident are you that Democrats and Republicans can, in fact, reach a redistricting deal?
Kotek: I am confident that we will have a transparent and accountable process in redistricting. The Oregon Supreme Court has given us a deadline of Sept. 27. We will be back in a special session in late September to hopefully pass the types of maps we need to have to reflect the population changes in our state. In some ways it is beneficial that redistricting is happening after session, because we had so much to do while we were in the regular session. Anything we did to make deals to govern this session was about making sure we could get the needs of Oregonians done. The makeup of the redistricting committee, I think, will be a non-issue at the end of the day. We want everybody to participate in the process, so we can draw the maps we need for the next decade.
Camhi: What didn’t you get done this year that sticks with you?
Kotek: Well first, let me just say what we did do: We came into January really worried about the budget situation, we were at the height of the pandemic, and we frankly didn’t know how we would land this session doing almost everything virtually. We were able to invest substantial amounts of money in the housing crisis, towards wildfire response and prevention, water projects, and behavioral health transformation investments. So just very important things, not to mention the more than two dozen police accountability and criminal justice reform bills.
When you look at those things that didn’t get done, here is my list for 2022: It’s coming back on House Bill 2002 to work more on improving how everyday Oregonians and folks who might have a mental health crisis or communities of color interact with the police. We need to come back on paying agricultural workers overtime like Washington and California are progressing to. Making sure legal services are available for all Oregonians. The harvest tax; making sure it’s modernized to actually work for the state and continuing to prioritize the central workers who have brought us through a very difficult time, and making sure we understand what they need going forward in the future.
Camhi: Finally, I want to ask a little bit about you. Specifically, Gov. Kate Brown’s term ends next year. And your name has been coming up a lot among potential candidates. Are you considering a run?
Kotek: I am trying to figure out how to relax at the moment. We had 15 very difficult months, and after every session I take some time to think about what I’m going to do next. It would be a tremendous honor and privilege to run for that office, and I just need to give it some thought over the summer. So, I haven’t made up my mind yet.