Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek is preparing to run for governor, two sources who’ve learned of her thinking tell WW.
Perhaps the most powerful leader in the state, even without the title of governor, Kotek has long been on the short list for the open governor’s mansion. Gov. Kate Brown is blocked by term limits from seeking reelection, and for just the second time in more than two decades there will be no incumbent or past governor in the race.
Multiple sources now tell WW she’s likely to run. Those who believe Kotek is running include Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. When asked Friday about her own future plans to run for office, Kafoury said she had heard Kotek will join the race for governor.
Kotek’s chief of staff, Lindsey O’Brien, said Kotek is weighing a run.
“The speaker is thinking about how she can continue to serve Oregon in the next phase of our recovery, including potentially running for governor,” O’Brien tells WW. “She understands the significance of the decision and has not made a final decision yet.”
Kotek has not begun significant fundraising (she raised $20,800), but that’s not expected to be an impediment if she get the backing public employee unions.
Kotek, who was first elected to the legislature in 2006, is the longest serving house speaker in Oregon history. She has served for nine years in that role, and has a string series of progressive legislative victories to show for her tenure while Democrats held majorities and supermajorities in the House (not to mention the governor’s office). Kotek prioritized anti-poverty measures, including on housing. She became the first openly lesbian woman to serve as House speaker.
But with legislating comes some compromises. Among those that may be the most difficult in her run is a compromise on public employee retirement benefits, which successfully staved off a ballot measure intended to reduce pensions even further, but also alienated rank-and-file members of public employee unions. Despite that break, Kotek has stayed a close ally of union leadership. She also came to a compromise with Republicans around congressional redistricting that avoided a walkout this year—but handed Republicans an equal number of seats on the committee decided redistricting, a decision that infuriated some Democrats.
Kotek’s run will likely impact other elected officials’ decisions to seek the governor’s mansion. It’s especially likely to play a role in whether Kafoury and state Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle decide to run—not to mention Melissa Unger, executive director of the Service Employees International Union Local 503, who was testing the waters. (Hoyle has raised $400,000 this year; Kafoury has raised none, at least partly because of county restrictions on campaigning during the middle of terms.)