Reader, beware: What follows is mostly gossip and opinion.
Since 1977, when we first began our Good, Bad & Awful survey of metro-area legislators, we've started the story with this warning.
We're not typically in the business of gossip and opinion.
But people who ply the halls of the Capitol—lobbyists, staffers and even other journalists—are not comfortable speaking on the record about lawmakers, for fear of retribution. We grant them anonymity to provide readers with an unvarnished assessment of the Portland-area legislators who craft Oregon's laws and shape its $24 billion budget.
This session provided a clear lesson: Elections have consequences.
The 2018 blue wave delivered supermajorities to Oregon Democrats: a 38-22 advantage in the House and 18-12 edge in the Senate. For the past 12 years, Democrats controlled the Legislature (except for an evenly split House in 2011), but it was not until this year that they truly exerted their strength.
The blue wave gave Democrats superpowers.
In Oregon, the constitution requires a three-fifths vote, what is called a supermajority, for lawmakers to pass new taxes. The most consequential result of the supermajorities this legislative session is the "Student Success Act," a 0.57 percent tax increase on business transactions that will raise more than $1 billion a year for schools.
That bill was far from the only example of Democrats exerting their will.
Led by the longest-serving House speaker in Oregon history, Tina Kotek (D-North Portland), Democrats also passed statewide rent control. They rolled back portions of Measure 11, the 1994 mandatory minimum sentencing law that has been in the cross hairs of criminal justice reformers for 25 years. They were on their way to other big victories, including gutting the death penalty, abolishing single family zoning in much of the state to allow more housing development, and passing a carbon emissions reduction bill after more than a decade of trying.
But those bills and many others were left in limbo when Senate Republicans walked out June 20, denying the Senate the quorum needed for floor votes. One GOP senator even threatened to shoot any cop who came to fetch him.
That drama is a far cry from past sessions, when Republicans, with the help of Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem), could reliably smother nearly any legislation they deemed too extreme. That's why a family medical leave bill, for instance, has been on Senate Democrats' to-do list since passing the House 12 years ago.
This time, much more has been accomplished, even if Senate Republicans derail the end of the session, and even if the cursory effort to address the state's $27 billion unfunded pension liability was more kabuki theater than responsible policymaking. (That, by the way, was just dandy with the public employee unions who helped with the funding and fieldwork that secured Democratic dominance.)
As the session heads into its final days, nobody could claim Kotek and her colleagues failed to get big things done.
That doesn't mean all lawmakers are high performers. As in high school and the town of Lake Wobegon, the Capitol is an insular world in which everyone is pretty sure he or she is above average. But there's a small army watching every move in hearing rooms, floor sessions and Salem watering holes. To find out what close observers think, we asked survey respondents to score legislators in the categories of integrity, brains and effectiveness. Their overall rating is an average of those three figures.
You won't find some the Legislature's power players, such as Courtney, or rising stars, such as Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis), in these pages, because they represent districts outside the metro area. You also won't find many of the AWOL Republicans—they are from mostly rural districts.
No reputable pollster would approve of our methodology, but we've done it this way for more than 40 years. And as painful as some lawmakers may find our results, we've found them to be pretty accurate.
What did we learn this year? Kotek's too effective to leave politics, as some predict she soon will. Sen. Shemia Fagan (D-Portland) improved with experience, Rep. Karin Power (D-Milwaukie) impresses the hell out of people, and Sen. Alan Olsen (R-Canby)—well, somebody has to finish last.
Here's how they and the rest of the metro-area lawmakers fared this year.
Hannah Chinn contributed reporting to this story.
The nonprofit Journalism Fund for Willamette Week provided support for this story.
Hass, 62, a former journalist and now brand manager for an ad firm, is the longtime chairman of the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee. In that role, Hass has spent the past decade trying to reform Oregon's tax system, which is excessively dependent on the personal income tax. Hass would be a dangerous poker opponent: He's astute, calm and keeps his cards close to his chest. Although others chaired the Joint Committee on Student Success, where the new tax bill originated, Hass deserves much credit for passing a huge new 0.57 percent corporate activities tax, which will function like a sales tax on business-to-business transactions. "One of the most thoughtful legislators in the Capitol," says a business lobbyist. "Hampered by his caucus. Honest, accessible, great sense of humor, great work ethic. Would love to see him move up." A progressive lobbyist wonders whether Hass made too many concessions to win support for the big tax bill. "Effectively passed the Student Success Act, but may have endangered it at the ballot by carving out too many industries and taxing too many small businesses," the lobbyist says.
When Fagan, 37, a fiery employment lawyer, served two terms in the House from 2013 to 2017, she struggled to stand out in a caucus where many of her colleagues were, like her, young and progressive. In the Senate, most of her colleagues are neither (the average senator in this survey not named Fagan is 64), and she's stood out from the session's first day—when she the only senator to vote against Courtney continuing as Senate president. An employment lawyer, Fagan chairs the Senate Housing Committee and pushed through the nation's first statewide rent control bill as well as a bill that will direct nonprofit hospitals to improve disclosure and expand charity care. She helped pass the national popular vote bill, part of an effort to replace the Electoral College that Courtney blocked for years. People admired her willingness to challenge the Senate president. "On a mission to single-handedly dismantle the patriarchy. At exactly the right time," wrote one respondent. "Fagan appears ruthless," says another. "When she looks at you, you feel like she's looking into your soul."
A retired Portland Community College professor, Dembrow, 67, longtime chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, toiled mightily to pass carbon reduction legislation, a concept that lawmakers have worked on since at least 2007. The bill passed the House and awaits a vote in the Senate. "Most humble and sincere D in the Senate," says one lobbyist. "Excellent on follow-through." Observers say he's a lot better at policy than politics. "His heart is in the right place, but he wants everyone to like him," says a longtime lobbyist. "Takes too long to get results. Three to five sessions is not always necessary to pass legislation on major issues."
Unusually ambitious, even in a building full of strivers, Steiner Hayward, 56, a family physician, landed a plum assignment this session: co-chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which writes the state's budget. "Has evolved into a very good legislator and could become a great one," says one lobbyist. She'd like to use that post to replace Courtney, whose days are numbered after 16 years as presiding officer. Although sexually harassed by ousted Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg), she publicly lauded Courtney's handling of the matter, a move that alienated some other victims and had the appearance of currying favor with the Senate president. Steiner Hayward's rating barely budged this year from the 2017 survey; interestingly, however, no lawmaker received more negative comments. "Brilliant, but sometimes gets so caught up in her personal priorities that she misses the forest for the tree," says one respondent. "Being a doctor is not the same as being a legislator." Most of all, Steiner Hayward seems to struggle with humility and teamwork. "Well-intentioned, but she's convinced she has all of the answers already," says a health care lobbyist. "It's unreasonably hard to convince her that some ideas are good even if they are not her idea."
Taylor, 52, a former auditor, understands numbers better than many of her colleagues. She chaired the Senate Committee on Workforce and passed a bill to strengthen public employees' collective bargaining rights. She was a chief co-sponsor of a paid family medical leave act that was one of the Democrats' top priorities. That bill was still in play at press time. Taylor can be brusque and unapproachable, but her rating improved more than any other senator's because she's straightforward and forceful and mostly stood apart from the drama that enveloped her caucus. "Sen. Taylor is the best kind of public servant—she cares deeply about people and about the work the government does that improves Oregonians' lives. She works hard to get folks to come to the table and talk to one another and agree on good policy." Several observers commented on her shaky interpersonal skills. "Intelligent," says a business lobbyist, "but listening to her is like watching paint dry."
Frederick, 67, a former television newsman and Portland Public Schools spokesman who now works as a communications consultant, co-chairs two Ways and Means subcommittees: Student Success and Education. In a building full of show horses, Frederick is a reliable plodder who steadily if unspectacularly moves toward his goals. He passed bills that will allow people convicted of certain marijuana crimes to clear their records (Senate Bill 420!) and that expand the definition of bias crimes. "One of the most underestimated senators," says a longtime observer. "This guy is certifiably smart, intelligent, politically insightful." Others say there's more sound than substance. "Goodhearted, not too effective."
Burdick, 71, a former journalist and retired public relations consultant, serves as Senate majority leader and chairs the Senate Rules Committee. With Courtney under attack from all sides for his slow response to sexual harassment in the Capitol and also suffering a variety of health challenges, Burdick had to rely on her 22 years in the Senate to hold her fractious caucus together. She helped form a new Capitol Culture Committee to address harassment issues. As usual, Burdick got mixed reviews. "Not great, not terrible, but has done a very good job with her most important job, keeping Peter Courtney calm (relatively), contained (relatively) and on the rails (relatively)," says a lobbyist. Many observers think Burdick has reached her sell-by date. "So appreciate her years of commitment to Oregon," says a progressive lobbyist. "But Senate leadership needs to step aside and let somebody else lead." One wag adds: "Her name should be Senator Peter Principle."
Wagner, 46, won appointment to the seat long held by former state Sen. Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin) last year. A boyish former lobbyist for the American Federation of Teachers and later an official at Portland Community College, Wagner brought a wealth of Capitol experience to his new job. Courtney rewarded him with a spot on Ways and Means and the chairmanship of the Education Committee, where he passed a bill requiring school districts provide Holocaust education. Some think he is too focused on someday running for Congress. "He has been AWOL all session," says a respondent. "Hard to get a meeting with and when you do, he doesn't seem to have a handle on what to do." Others see promise—although not courage: "At an aquarium, he would be in the invertebrate section."
Monnes Anderson, 73, a retired nurse and the veteran chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Health Care, has struggled in this survey since winning election to the House in 2000, and this year was no different. Although she's Senate president pro tem, ran the chamber while Courtney took health leave, and passed a bill that requires prescription drug labeling in multiple languages, Monnes Anderson does not inspire great confidence in her colleagues or observers. "Smarter than she pretends to be," says a veteran lobbyist. "Way more worried about consensus than problem solving." That's a common theme. "Easily pushed around by other members," says a health care lobbyist. "Never met a bill that she couldn't set aside and create a work group to study."
Thomsen, 62, a courtly pear farmer, won re-election to his third term by just 209 votes out of nearly 60,000 cast. In past years, lobbyists enjoyed stopping by his office for fresh fruit and homespun wisdom. But too many sessions in a shrinking minority have soured this formerly happy warrior. He alone among his caucus pushed for a controversial vaccine bill that got killed in a compromise, but he generally seemed as if he had already checked out, according to several respondents. His survey results reflected that: His overall rating plummeted 1.7 points, the biggest drop of any lawmaker. He's vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee but didn't make a dent. "So where in the world was Chuck Thomsen?" asks one lobbyist. "He made no difference in anything." Even former admirers are shaking their heads. "His 'simple pear farmer' shtick is getting old. And he couldn't overcome his constant anger with groups who opposed his last re-election," says one. If facing opposition made him angry, he won't like this: "Every day," says another respondent, "Thomsen should thank Alan Olsen for existing so that he isn't the very worst."
Riley, 80, a retired IT consultant and diehard Trail Blazers fan who chairs the General Government Committee, is in his second session in the Senate after serving three terms in the House. "He gets a bum rap and isn't very effective, but he's not as bad as people make him out to be," says the most optimistic of observers. To understand the limited esteem with which many lawmakers hold Riley, consider the fate of a top priority of his: a bill that would have allowed the creation across the state of taxing districts for children's services, like the Portland Children's Levy. After passing the Senate, the bill got crushed on the House floor, a huge embarrassment. "His take-home bill died on the House floor—and it wasn't even close," says a respondent. "His lobbying on its behalf probably cost votes." That's a widely held view. "Watching him legislate is like watching the kid on the C team try to hang with the varsity," says a business lobbyist.
Olsen, 71, contractor and connoisseur of patriotic neckwear, has never impressed many respondents to this survey. He chairs the Committees on Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness, an interesting assignment for a lawmaker best known for his denial of climate change. Many lobbyists cited his views on climate. "Would be effective if he understood policy," writes one. "That time he tried to create a 'gotcha' moment in committee on the session's landmark climate bill? It didn't work: He thought carbon monoxide was a greenhouse gas, when it's carbon dioxide that is." Olsen did pass a bill that requires the Department of Corrections to beef up protections for inmates at the Coffee Creek women's prison and pushed to expand tax breaks for disabled veterans. "He may not be all that bright or effective, but at least he'll always sit down with you and at least have a spirited debate," says a business lobbyist. "It is hard to communicate with someone this inept," says a more representative observer. "Sometimes, when I look at him, I'm fighting the temptation to remind him to breathe."
Power, 35, is a lawyer for the Freshwater Trust, and she's been perhaps the House's strongest advocate for the transparency of public records. She co-chaired the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction with Sen. Michael Dembrow, helping shepherd through a 100-page bill to which stakeholders offered more than 100 amendments—then stood for six hours patiently answering questions before it passed the House. As pleasant as she is smart, the 2017 Rookie of the Year has in just her second term replaced her colleague Jeff Barker as the House member held in the highest and widest esteem. "Willing to listen to all sides of an issue and working with people to try to get to the best negotiated outcome. She's assertive without being aggressive," says a lobbyist. Another worries she may not stick around—she's too good for the Capitol. "The best thing about her is that she's a no-bullshit lady. Professional, smart, hardworking and doesn't belong here."
In her fourth term as House speaker, Kotek, 52, has held the position longer than anyone in Oregon history, and her scores on this survey have never been higher. She remains as savvy, steady and low-key as ever. She moved a massive agenda on taxes, housing and the environment this session and showed steel in whipping two members—Reps. Mitch Greenlick and Andrea Salinas—to change their votes and agree to cut public employee retirement benefits. While that bill did not do enough to fix the state's $27 billion unfunded pension liability, it showed Kotek was willing to back something her union supporters didn't want. Inside the progressive lobby, where people know Kotek best, there's a belief she won't seek re-election next year. "Ran the table on her way out the door," says a longtime ally. "Mic-drop time. Unbelievably impressive." Others were less effusive. "Purely transactional and knows how to use both the carrot and stick effectively, if occasionally ruthlessly," says a staffer. "Has really elevated her game in terms of behind-the-scenes bargaining, vote trading, playing one side against the other," says a business lobbyist. "Not the most admirable of qualities, in my opinion, but then again, I've never been speaker."
As House majority leader, Williamson, 45, is Kotek's lieutenant. She took over the Judiciary gavel and rolled back some Measure 11 sentencing for juveniles, a Democratic goal for 25 years, and pushed to effectively gut the death penalty. If Kotek decides not to run again, as is rumored, Williamson is a potential candidate to succeed her—but there is speculation she will focus on an eventual run for attorney general instead. "Terrific session getting criminal justice reform and sexual violence issues. Probably her best session," says one lobbyist. Others took a more jaded view. "Using her new chairmanship of Judiciary to run for AG," says a staffer. "But doing it with equanimity and collegiality towards her R colleagues on the committee. Never been as effective as Val Hoyle as majority leader, but she is growing into it."
In her fifth session, Keny-Guyer, 60, fought cancer and she fought for tenants' rights and affordable housing. She chaired the House Committee on Human Services and Housing. A top priority—eliminating the mortgage interest tax deduction on second homes—failed, but she did help pass the statewide rent control bill. A passionate idealist who reflects the values of her Mount Tabor and Laurelhurst constituents, she saw a solid increase in her ratings as progressive legislation swept the building. "One of the most compassionate of all the legislators and the one who works on both sides of the aisle," says one commenter. "Well-intentioned scion of the liberal elite," says a progressive lobbyist. "Unfortunately, this doesn't always translate into practical policy development."
Nosse, 51, an unfailingly cheery organizer for the nurses' union, co-chaired the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Services in his third session. He's spent his time trying to limit prescription drug prices and tuning up the Oregon Health Plan. He passed a bill clarifying that bike lanes continue through intersections even if unmarked. "Nosse is the hardest-working lawmaker in the building who agonizes over budget decisions impacting the most vulnerable people," says a business lobbyist. "He probably regrets taking the Ways and Means Human Services co-chair position, but he puts in the time and the research on every issue." Some people find him rigid. "Difficult to move from preconceived positions, but is very fair, actually wants to hear from citizens and advocates, and personally responds to most of the input he receives," says a health care lobbyist. Then there is the issue of his doppelgänger: "It is counterintuitive that somebody who looks so much like Rand Paul votes so liberally."
In her third session, Smith Warner, 52, a high-energy former staffer for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), served as the majority whip and co-chaired the Joint Committee on Student Success, which passed the largest corporate tax increase in the state's history. More than most, Smith Warner loves the tactical calculations that go into moving bills. "Often underestimated but is very shrewd and persistent," says a lobbyist. Her big win on taxes, combined with her drive, organizational skills and strong relationships with the public employee unions, makes her a strong contender to replace Kotek someday. "Well-respected, effective whip and has a good sense of humor so desperately needed in such a role," says an admirer. Not everybody is on board. "She lights up at the sound of her own voice," says a skeptic.
Salinas, 49, the House Rookie of the Year, walked through Salem's proverbial revolving door backward, going from being a contract lobbyist to winning the appointment to replace Rep. Ann Lininger (D-Lake Oswego), who was appointed to a judgeship in 2017. When Kotek demoted Mitch Greenlick from the House Health Care Committee, she tapped Salinas, who'd specialized in health care as a congressional staffer. That's a big compliment for a rookie lawmaker. "Diplomatic, smart; already far ahead of most of the Legislature in understanding complex health care issues. The right person for the House health chair post," says a lobbyist who frequents that committee. "Wickedly intelligent on policy and process," says a business lobbyist. Others wonder if she's got the steel for leadership. "Too accommodating," a respondent says. "Not sure she can make the transition from lobbyist to legislator."
Barker, 76, a retired Portland cop, has been at or near the top of this survey for years. He's a straight shooter, a moderate and the lawmaker who suffered the biggest blow of the session when Kotek stripped him of his chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee because he didn't like the idea of rolling back sentencing measures (including the death penalty) without a vote of the people. Barker soldiered on with his consolation prize, chairmanship of the Business and Labor Committee, but most lobbyists say the demotion diminished him. "This guy got thrown under the bus by the D leadership. Too bad, because he is smart, effective and true to his leadership even when they are not. We could use more Barkers in the Legislature," says a progressive. "He used to be very effective until he was removed from his chairmanship," says a lobbyist who works on public safety. "He was removed from Judiciary in order to move crappy, trial-lawyer-favored legislation and sidelined in the Business Committee when he didn't take on extreme policy changes for his peers," says a business lobbyist.
Doherty, 68, a former teacher and teachers' union staffer, knows why she's in Salem—to provide a reliable voice for labor. In a drily humorous voice, she's known to refer to herself as a "labor goonette." As chairwoman of the House Education Committee, she ensures that the most powerful interest group in the biggest chunk of the state's budget—K-12 schools—gets what it wants on policy. She passed a bill requiring prisons to provide free tampons. "Doherty has always walked what she preaches. High integrity and grit," says a longtime observer. "Something endearing about her," adds another respondent. "She doesn't worry about what others think of her and her loyalty to the Oregon Education Association."
Prusak, 43, a hospice nurse whose salty Massachusetts accent reveals her roots, knocked off four-term incumbent Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn) last year, turning another traditionally red seat blue. Her primary assignment was on the House Health Care Committee, where she earned mixed reviews. She pushed hard for vaccine and gun safety bills, both of which got sacrificed in a trade for the corporate tax increase. "Best first-termer," says a progressive lobbyist. "Hard worker. Passionate, no-nonsense. You know where you stand with her." For some people, Prusak was a bit too communicative. "West Linn traded one loudmouth for another," says a business lobbyist.
Considering she had the skills and toughness to battle her way to the position of Gresham police chief, Piluso, 63, now retired from that position, appeared to have great potential as a legislator. But she may have started too late to achieve it. "Knows her lane (public safety) and is strong there, follows others on everything else. Honest and open," says one observer. Now in her third term, she is co-chair of the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Public Safety and, surveys suggest, one of the most universally liked lawmakers. "Carla's just an awesome and realistic legislator," says a business lobbyist. "Great person to work with." The knock on her: She's a little quiet. "Piluso was absent from many conversations this session," says another lobbyist.
Bynum, 44, a former General Motors engineer who now co-owns four McDonald's franchises, saw a significant increase in her rating (nearly a full point), and observers think she'll get better. "She could do so much more," offers one business lobbyist. In her second session, Bynum, the only African American in the House, passed bills that would punish schools for failing to police racist behavior at sporting events and would allow people to sue those who unlawfully summon police officers. "Shows amazing strength, particularly in light of the high volume of micro-aggressions she faces on a regular basis as a black woman in a primarily white environment," says a progressive lobbyist. "Very good at saying what needs to be said. Easy to work with."
Williams, 39, a college adviser, is a beneficiary of the blue wave that pushed Democrats to a supermajority. She defeated incumbent Rep. Jeff Helfrich (R-Hood River) in a historically Republican seat. She struggled to make an impression among a crowded caucus. Her committee assignments were few, but she did pass a bill that will greatly expand the long-term care ombudsman's office. People liked her. "Huge upside," says one lobbyist. "Smart, strategic. Hardworking. Little grandstanding." People liked her humility, but wanted more engagement. "Blends in with the crowd so well most people don't even know she's a legislator when she's walking up and down the hall," says an observer.
Helm, 54, a land-use lawyer, chairs the House Committee on Energy and Environment. He helped pass a bill that will establish a framework for Oregon to export cannabis when the feds allow it. Some people question his priorities. "Wish he would focus more on land use and less on pot," says one. Judging by the paucity of comments about Helm, he's moving through Salem without leaving much of a trace. Only Mitch Greenlick recorded a larger gap between brains and effectiveness. Greenlick can blame health, his age and losing his gavel. Helm's scores suggest people think he is simply underachieving. "Still can't run an effective committee, even with 6 D's and only 3 R's," says a regular at meetings of Helm's panel. That's not a universal opinion. "An underestimated force in the House. His quiet presence should not be mistaken for inaction," says a senior lobbyist.
At 84, Greenlick, is concluding his final session after battling cancer and other ills. A retired health researcher, he never believed in Portland niceties. "Even on a bad day, he can be smarter than everyone in the room, and he'll let you know it," says a lobbyist. In his last session, he suffered two setbacks. First, Kotek unceremoniously took the House Heath Care Committee chair he'd held for a decade because of his rudeness to female members and lobbyists. "He treated people horribly for years," says a regular Health Care Committee attendee. Then, Democratic leadership agreed to kill a controversial pro-vaccine bill Greenlick sponsored, to get Senate Republicans to allow a vote on the big corporate tax hike. He will leave behind some hurt feelings, but a lot of respect. "He has more integrity than most legislators," says a progressive. "He is unafraid to speak up on behalf of people with disabilities and mental health issues. He is a visionary when it comes to criminal justice reform."
Director of family services at the Native American Youth and Family Center, Sanchez, 57, is the first Native American to represent Portland in the Legislature and only the second to serve in the building. People say she's in Salem for the work, not for intrigue or self-advancement. She passed a bill directing the Oregon State Police to pay closer attention to missing and murdered Native American women. "Love how she has brought Native American issues into the Legislature," says a respondent. "She is a great example of how important diverse representation is." Sanchez helped raise 18 foster children and brings that experience to her role as vice chairwoman of the Committee on Human Services and Housing. "Solid team player," says a longtime progressive lobbyist. "Does Cully proud. Great person not perfectly suited for the Legislature (which is a compliment)."
Drazan, 47, replaced Rep. Bill Kennemer (R-Oregon City), who retired. A former staffer in the House Republican caucus office, Drazan came into the session well ahead of the average rookie, but as a metro-area Republican, she's almost totally isolated. Drazan co-led a bipartisan push for an expansion of Project Independence, which helps seniors age in their homes rather than institutions, and pushed for property tax relief for veterans. Neither bill had passed by deadline. "If Republicans were smart, she would be the next caucus leader," says one admirer. But more than one observer says she may need to work on her interpersonal skills: "Klobuchar-esque in her treatment of legislative and professional Capitol staff."
No lawmaker's scores jumped more than Meek's: In his second term, the 55-year-old Realtor jumped nearly a full point from 2017. He distinguished himself this session by occasionally breaking into song on the House floor. (Upon the death of Sen. Jackie Winters (R-Salem) on May 29, for instance, he belted out "Amazing Grace.") He served as vice chairman of the Veterans and Emergency Preparedness Committee and helped pass a bill strengthening protections around oil trains. Some people think he's coasting on a reputation for independence he earned in his rookie session by refusing to vote with the Oregon Association of Realtors, the biggest funder of his first campaign. "Deserves to still be basking in 2017 success on housing," says one lobbyist. "Bright, honest and hardworking." Others think he needs to toughen up. "The most appropriately named legislator in Oregon," sniffs a skeptic.
McLain, 70, a former teacher and four-term Metro councilor, is serving her third term in the House. She co-chairs the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education. Known for putting in long hours, she has also carved out a specialty on transportation issues, making herself a Capitol expert on autonomous vehicles as well as the contentious issue of how to oversee Uber and Lyft. She worked hard on a bill that would have pre-empted Portland's authority to regulate those companies, but House Speaker Kotek crushed it near session's end. She passed a bill that will allow farmers to expand 60-fold the amount of soil they take out of farm ditches and streams without getting a permit. "Moderate, rational: This is high praise," says one lobbyist. Others found her support for letting the state, rather than the city of Portland, regulate ride-hailing giants disappointing. "Became a toady of Uber and Lyft in a way that hurts Oregonians," says a progressive lobbyist. "Why?"
Hernandez, 31, is a young man in a hurry. Now in his second term, he's regularly in the discussion when people talk about potential candidates for the Multnomah County Commission and Portland City Council. "Overly focused on his future campaigns, even in a building where everyone cares about the next election," says a Democratic lobbyist. Kotek put Hernandez on six committees—a heavy load—although he doesn't have a leadership position on any. Like many upwardly mobile politicians, he'll need to show results that keep pace with his goal for higher office. This session, he got one: Hernandez led the fight for a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses. House passage was a big win for him. "Plays an important role for D's as their left flank," says a lobbyist. "He helps keep the caucus honest when they are under pressure to cave."
"He is one of the nicest legislators ever," says one respondent of Gorsek, 61, a geography instructor at Mount Hood Community College. "He works hard and responds quickly. He represents his district well." But most respondents think Gorsek's got a low ceiling, which he reached long ago. "He's still here?" asks one lobbyist. Gorsek passed a priority bill of his—requiring helmets for whitewater rafters. The stolid ex-cop also co-sponsored a key bill for environmentalists, the single-use plastic bag ban. Gorsek still carries one of the lightest list of committee assignments of any House member. Another lobbyist jokes his hold on a once-red seat is tenuous. "Will lose his race in East County the second he shaves his mustache," the lobbyist says.
Schouten, 65, a retired public health nurse in her second session, passed legislation that would provide visits to new parents from public health nurses, and also worked to strengthen drug take-back programs, a bill still alive at press time. There's general agreement she is pretty much lost in a caucus full of big personalities. "Treats people fairly and listens, is willing to be educated on an issue, and is open to the concept that she may not know or understand everything about an issue," notes one lobbyist. "Not so great in bringing bills across the finish line." Another lobbyist sums up the problem more succinctly: "Completely incapable of forming relationships."
Reardon, 72, brings a diversity of experience to the Capitol: He's a veteran and former shop teacher who also worked for Oregon tech pioneer Tektronix. There's no nicer person in the building, but there are many who get more done. He chairs the Ways and Means Natural Resources Subcommittee and was an effective advocate for community colleges, which got a large funding boost this term. "Carefully listens to all sides before making a decision; a true statesman," says a supporter. "He's still here? Nobody noticed," says a more typical observer.
A second-termer, Sollman, 49, is a former member of the Hillsboro School Board and works for an educational software company. She serves on the Committees on Education and on Energy and Environment and was a chief sponsor of the single-use plastic bag ban and the bill banning plastic straws except upon customer request. Although those both passed, the comments about Sollman didn't reflect a lot of respect. "Pretty much still in learning mode," says a progressive lobbyist. "Anybody home? If a staffer gave her a speech opposing her own bill, she'd probably read it on the floor and not notice the difference," says a respondent. "Should probably do something else with her life," says a business lobbyist.
Not even ardent Democrats gave Neron, 40, a former public schoolteacher, much of a chance of defeating incumbent Rep. Rich Vial (R-Hillsboro) in this reliably red district last year, but she eked out a victory. "Can't believe she won and neither can anyone else," says a progressive lobbyist. Unfailingly pleasant and too new to politics to be out for herself, Neron served on the House Education and Veterans Affairs committees although without much distinction, pushing unsuccessfully for tax breaks for teachers who spend their own money on school supplies. "Great heart," says a lobbyist. "Hope she learns how to be effective.