The impending shift in power in Salem has set up a potentially historic change in legislative leadership here in Oregon.
Democrats are poised to hold a 34-26 majority in Oregon’s House of Representatives, breaking the previous 30-30 tie, thanks to four victories by Democratic candidates in the Portland suburbs over Republican incumbents.
House Co-Speaker Arnie Roblan’s (D-Coos Bay) successful pursuit of a State Senate seat has left House Democratic Leader Tina Kotek in position to become Oregon’s first openly-gay House speaker.
Kotek, who represents North Portland in the legislature, says she would be America’s first openly lesbian house speaker.
"I think anytime you have a first for a community that's looking for role models it's really important,” Kotek said. “So I know folks in the LGBT community are very excited. I think it says a lot about Oregon that we appreciate and respect diversity.”
To become House speaker, Kotek still needs to secure the backing of her Democratic colleagues when the new legislative session begins in January.
Asked when her sexual orientation would become irrelevant, Kotek said, “I think we're getting there. We have a president who supported marriage equality and got re-elected at the national level. Every year we seen I think, more of ‘it's not a big deal’, but until we're there having people in positions of leadership where young folks can look up to I think it's really important.”
But Kotek said Oregonians looking to across the Columbia River to see Referendum 74 passing in Washington state should not look to the Oregon Legislature to lead the charge on legalizing same-sex marriage.
"In Oregon we're a little different because we'd have to amend our Constitution to allow same-sex couples to marry,” Kotek said. “I think we're on track to do that and that could potentially be on the ballot in 2014.
“You could refer it to the voters, but it shouldn't be a legislative referral. It should be a referral that comes up from the people. Go out and collect those signatures, build the education and awareness on the topic, and then have the support you need when you go to the ballot."
Kotek said her priorities are education and job creation. And in her role representing North Portland, she plans to push for funding for the Columbia River Crossing bridge, adding she feels light rail is “an integral part” of the project.