Salem Republican Sen. Jackie Winters was elected by her peers Wednesday to serve as the new Republican Leader, presenting herself as a collaborator willing to listen and compromise to get goals accomplished.
Winters is one of the longest-serving members of the state Senate, having first assumed office in 2003, and has built relationships in the House, Senate and Governor's office that she says will help her succeed in her new role.
"Leadership requires that you have the capability of working across the aisle and working with others," she said during a news conference after her selection.
Winters was elected to replace Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, who was confirmed to an executive appointment earlier in the day.
Initially, Winters didn't seek out the leadership position, but colleagues began pushing her to run, she said.
"It's an honor to have your colleagues elect you to lead them," she said. "It's really an honor when they actually reach out to you to ask you to do this."
Four of the top six leadership positions in the Legislature are now filled by women, as is the governor and attorney general.
One of the relationships Winters has built during her time in government is with Senate President and Salem Democrat Sen. Peter Courtney. The two are good friends, but Winters said they both understand their roles and she anticipates there will be times when they don't agree at all.
But relationships are critical to keeping everything running properly, she said.
"I don't think that our friendship will suffer as a result of this," Winters said. "We both know that this process functions best when we actually have built relationships in this building, and where we built trust."
In a statement, Courtney praised Winters for her toughness and "inner strength."
"She’s a true Republican and a true Oregonian," Courtney said. "Jackie’s wisdom and sense of fairness will make her an exceptional leader and will help make the Legislature work."
One of the reasons Winters was initially hesitant to run for Republican Leader is her health; in August she began rounds of chemotherapy for "localized" lung cancer. But she announced Wednesday that she is off chemo and her cancer is in remission.
Looking forward to 2018's short session, Winters said the Legislature should spend the month on non-controversial, achievable legislative tweaks, not major bills. Democrats are looking to pass a carbon "cap and invest" bill in 2018, which Republicans have said is too much to address in the limited time available next year.
Lawmakers will be missing two of their most senior members after Ferrioli and Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, were both confirmed Wednesday to an executive appointment to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.
"I'm hoping that we will still be cohesive and still put forward some very good public policy," she said.
Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, said reading out the names of Ferrioli and Devlin as among dozens of appointments confirmed by the Senate Wednesday was "bittersweet."
"(They) will leave a huge gap in our body. I go back many years with both of them, I wish them all the best in their future endeavors," she said.
"I don't know if there's anything sweet about it," Courtney quipped from the dais. "I'm not happy with either one of you two."
Still undetermined is which senator will replace Devlin as co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee, a powerful committee due to its influence on state spending.
Both Senate spots also need to be filled and appointments for the remainder of the term are made by county commissioners in each district.
Republicans also elected Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, as Deputy Senate Republican Leader and Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, as Senate Republican Whip.
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