House Speaker Tina Kotek Resigns From Legislature to Focus on Governor’s Race

The longest-serving speaker in Oregon history will step down Jan. 21.

House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) announced today she will resign from the Legislature on Jan. 21.

“Serving as speaker of the House and representing my community in the Legislature has been an amazing honor, and I am forever grateful to my constituents, my colleagues, and the entire state for the opportunity to serve,” Kotek said in a statement.

Kotek first won election to the House, representing North Portland, in 2006.

In 2012, her colleagues elected her the nation’s first openly lesbian speaker. Since then, she has presided with steely efficiency over large Democratic majorities. Along with her opposite number, Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem), Kotek enacted a propulsive agenda, including historically large tax increases for education and transportation; renter protections; an end to single-family zoning to legalize middle housing; an expansion of funding and legal protections for abortions; family medical leave; and the effective end of the death penalty.

“I am proud of the historic accomplishments the Legislature has delivered for Oregonians, and I leave the role knowing that our efforts will benefit Oregonians now and well into the future,” Kotek said. “Having achieved these victories as speaker, I am shifting my attention to ensure that they are implemented in ways that improve the lives of people in every corner of Oregon.”

Kotek’s resignation clears her calendar to focus on her run for governor and helps her in at least two important ways: First, there would have been increased scrutiny around any action she took or didn’t take as speaker in the even-year legislative session that begins Feb. 1. Was she using her power to reward supporters? Punish enemies? Now, those questions are moot.

Second, House rules prohibit members from soliciting or accepting campaign contributions during a session. That would have put Kotek at a significant disadvantage to her opponents in the Democratic primary for governor, State Treasurer Tobias Read and former New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof. (Although as of this morning, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan ruled Kristof does not meet the residency requirements to run for governor.)

Thomas Wheatley, a campaign consultant for Kotek, says the she simply decided it was time to focus on the next chapter.

“After considerable thought over the holidays, Tina made a decision to step down as Speaker and resign her House seat,” Wheatley says. “This decision comes on the heels of a very successful special session in December that provided a critical fix to Oregon’s emergency rental assistance and hundreds of millions of dollars in urgent investments.”

Kotek’s resignation comes on the heels of a Jan. 5 announcement by Courtney, who has served as Senate president since 2003, that will not seek reelection this year.

That means the state will have a new governor and new presiding legislative officers in 2023, an extraordinary turnover at the top in Salem.

Courtney saluted Kotek for her accomplishments. “Tina will always be a historic figure in the Legislature,” the Senate president said in a statement. “She is very good at many things. She is excellent with budgets. She is an advocate in many ways before anything else. She has been very involved in housing, homelessness, and criminal justice reform. Tina has served the state well during a challenging time in Oregon’s history. I thank her for her years of service.”