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‘Opening Day’ for new governor and lawmakers in Salem

Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, speaks on the floor of the Senate Monday, as Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, looks on. [Connor Radnovich/for EO Media Group]

A new governor, new lawmakers and one very old Capitol that is torn to pieces so it can be put back together highlighted Opening Day of 2023 Oregon state politics on Monday.

The Senate and House met Monday morning at the Oregon Capitol in Salem, which has two years to go on a major seismic overhaul that's closed off the rotunda and other portions of the art deco landmark.

The ornate House and Senate chambers were ready to do business Monday and lawmakers organized for the session that won't get down to real business until Jan. 17.

In the afternoon, a joint session watched in the House as former speaker Tina Kotek was sworn into office, succeeding Gov. Kate Brown.

"Here we go!" tweeted smiling freshman Rep. Emerson Levy, D-Bend, who arrived early so her family could stroll the House floor.

Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, was elected Speaker of the House on a partyline vote. But it was revised to unanimous at the motion of Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, a longtime intermediary between the two parties in the House.

Democrats hold a 35-25 majority in the chamber, just under the three-fifths supermajority needed to pass taxes and other financial bills. Democrats last had to shop for GOP votes in the 2019-2020 session.

Rayfield said he hoped the large turnover in House members — half were elected since 2020 — would at least delay partisan divisions that derailed recent sessions.

"I'm not suggesting this session is going to be all unicorns jumping over rainbows," he said.

One of the first actions of the House was to approve new rules, which included removing many of the COVID-19 restrictions put in place over the past two years. Similar rules were later enacted by the Senate. For the first time since March 2020, the default plan is for committee and floor sessions to be held in-person.

The change was even bigger on the other side of the Capitol as a 20-year era ended. Sen. Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, took the gavel as Senate President, which had been held for two decades by former President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, who retired.

Democrats hold 17 of 30 seats in the Senate.

In his first speech to senators, Wagner said he was aware of the big change in the room after Courtney's departure. He referenced President Abraham Lincoln in saying reaching a true unity amid contentious views was a process, not a destination.

"We make not the perfect union, but a perfect union," Wagner said.

When the session starts Jan. 17, over 2,000 pieces of legislation will already have been filed. That's on top of the need for a new two-year state budget. Most of the bills will never get to Gov. Kotek — or even be debated.

Under the Oregon Constitution, the Legislature must adjourn no later than June 25.

This story was published by Oregon Capital Insider, a joint journalistic effort by Pamplin Media Group and EO Media Group.