SALEM, Ore. — After fiercely contested races around the state, Democrats are poised to take over Oregon’s House of Representatives with a 34-26 majority, clearing the path for the ascension of openly lesbian House Democratic Leader Tina Kotek to the Speaker’s chair.
The victory breaks the previous split legislative body, that saw a 30-30 tie in the state House.
Kotek (D-North Portland), a third term lawmaker, said she will ask the Democratic caucus to support her bid to be the Speaker nominee. She says the next speaker will be chosen by the Legislature in January, and if confirmed, would be Oregon’s first openly lesbian Speaker.
“I think anytime you have a first for a community that’s looking for role models it’s really important,” she told local media. “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.”
Regarding her sexual orientation, Kotek told KATU-TV, “Every year, we see 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.”
Kotek said Oregonians looking 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,” she said.
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.