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Capital Chatter: Leadership update

Change began last summer when the House Democrats chose Rep. Barbara Smith Warner of Portland as majority leader when Jennifer Williamson relinquished that role to focus on running for statewide office.

The revolving door of legislative leadership keeps spinning.

Sen. Herman Baertschiger Jr. of Grants Pass reportedly is out as the Oregon Senate Republican leader and will be replaced by Sen. Fred Girod, who lives in the Stayton-Lyons area. The official announcement could come as early as Friday.

Baertschiger Is running for Josephine County commissioner in the May 19 primary and was expected to step from caucus leadership after that election.

The House Republicans ousted their leader last fall, replacing Rep. Carl Wilson of Grants Pass with Rep. Christine Drazan of Canby. That revolt also caused most of the House Republican Caucus staff to resign, with Drazan hiring respected Capitol insider Bruce Anderson as chief of staff.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, previously indicated she would step down from that role; however, that is on hold while the Legislature grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

Change began last summer when the House Democrats chose Rep. Barbara Smith Warner of Portland as majority leader when Jennifer Williamson relinquished that role to focus on running for statewide office. Williamson has since abandoned her 2020 campaign for secretary of state.

At this point, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, is a good bet to retain her leadership position in the 2021 Legislature. She also is a shoo-in for re-election in her district, which is only 6% Republican.

Kotek quietly has become the state's longest-serving House speaker and arguably the most powerful politician in the Capitol as Portland liberals have gained strength. That leftward swing has weakened Senate President Peter Courtney, a moderate Democrat from Salem. Courtney also has been severely ill, leading to questions about how long he will remain president, especially if voters this year add more liberal Democrats to the Senate mix.

Democrats currently outnumber Republicans 18-12 in the Senate and 38-22 in the House.

Part of the job of being a majority or minority leader is to mount effective fundraising and political campaigns to increase their party's numbers. What that doesn't happen, a change in caucus leadership often ensues.

The 2020 elections have already caused the Republican leadership changes. Being in the Legislature's "super-minority" gnaws at lawmakers, and some Republicans wanted swifter, more assertive campaign preparations.

Whereas House Republicans turned to a first-term legislator in Drazan, Girod is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate. He has had a decent working relationship with Courtney, who appointed Girod a co-chair of a powerful budget subcommittee.

Virtual democracy: The Legislative Emergency Board on Thursday held its first-ever meeting solely by videoconference and telephone. Kotek chaired the four-hour meeting, wearing a headset and acting as a traffic director for the robust discussion. For the most part, Republicans and Democrats were in agreement on how to divvy up money for coronavirus relief.

Viewers even heard from the household dogs of Courtney and Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene.

A Democratic trifecta: Oregon is one of 15 states where Democrats control the governorship and both legislative chambers, according to Ballotpedia. Republicans have such a trifecta in 21 states. The remaining 14 states have divided government.

Dick Hughes is a freelance journalist who has covered Oregon issues since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com.