Democrats retake control of Oregon Legislature

OF the Associated Press

SALEM — Democrats retake control of the Oregon state Legislature after two years of sharing power with Republicans in the House.

Thirty senators and 60 representatives will take the oath of office on Monday, and Gov. John Kitzhaber is scheduled to deliver his annual “state of the state” address to a joint session of the House and Senate.

Lawmakers will adopt rules and elect leaders but won't formally begin the legislative session until Feb. 4.

Democrats now have a solid 34-26 majority in the House. Rep. Tina Kotek, of Portland, was elected speaker, becoming the first lesbian to lead a state legislative chamber in the United States. She took the oath of office alongside her partner, Aimee Wilson.

Kotek urged her colleagues to listen, not to be afraid of different perspectives and not to shy away from robust but constructive debates.

“All the voices need to be heard, from the most vulnerable to the most well healed, if we are to meet our moral obligation to represent and serve all Oregonians,” Kotek said.

Democrats also retain control the state Senate with a slight 16-14 edge. Sen. Peter Courtney, of Salem, was expected to be elected to a sixth term as Senate president — a position he's held longer than anyone else in Oregon history.

Lawmakers will have a busy calendar when they return next month to formally begin their business.

The economy has stabilized, avoiding the massive budget deficits that lawmakers have faced in recent years. But the costs of providing government services are rising faster than tax revenues, and the Legislature will still have to cut millions in spending to arrive at a balanced budget.

Kitzhaber has pushed lawmakers to cut back on pension benefits for public employees and to reduce spending on prisons. He said both ideas would free up money for higher priorities like schools and police. But they're politically risky for some lawmakers who were elected with strong support from public-employee unions or fear being portrayed as soft on crime.

Lawmakers also will confront environmental issues, transportation funding and immigration issues.

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