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House Speaker Tina Kotek leaving Oregon Legislature ahead of race for governor

Kotek is the longest-serving Speaker in Oregon history. Her last day in office will be Friday, Jan. 21.

SALEM, Ore — Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek will step down from her role after nine years, prior to the start of the 2022 legislative session in February, she announced Thursday. Her last day in office will be Friday, Jan. 21. 

“After considerable reflection, I have decided to step down from the legislature before the upcoming session. I have spent the past few months working hard with my colleagues to set a session agenda that includes essential investments in the services Oregonians need and paves a path forward on important issues for workers, our natural resources, and economic growth," Kotek said in a statement. 

Kotek is running for Oregon governor to replace term-limited Kate Brown, which means this session would have been her last as Speaker. Because Oregon law prohibits candidates from running for more than one elected office, she cannot seek re-election to her House seat at the same time. She currently represents District 44, which covers parts of North and Northeast Portland. 

The unexpected decision to resign prior to the legislative session could signal the race is tighter than expected. Kotek is largely seen as a frontrunner candidate who is likely to shore up endorsements from the state's powerful public employee unions, but she faces an increasingly crowded field of Democrats, though former New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof's campaign — which has raised a hefty $2.5 million so far — took a hit Wednesday when the Secretary of State ruled he is ineligible to run. He is expected to appeal that decision. 

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Kotek is not the first Oregon lawmaker to step down to focus on campaigning for higher office. Former State Sen. Betsy Johnson — a moderate Democrat also seeking the governor job, though as an unaffiliated candidate — resigned from the Senate last month to focus on her campaign. 

Kotek has served in the Oregon House since 2007 and became the first openly lesbian speaker of any state house nationwide when she assumed the role in 2013. In a news release, her office touted a number of her accomplishments as speaker, such as the Student Success Act in 2019 increasing public education funding, the Reproductive Health Equity Act in 2017, which protects abortion access in Oregon, and a 2019 paid family and medical leave insurance program. 

Kotek's announcement comes a day after Senate President Peter Courtney announced he would serve out the remainder of his term, but would not run for re-election this year — leaving both chambers of the Oregon Legislature under new leadership. 

"Tina will always be a historic figure in the Legislature. To be Speaker for 10 years in the House is extremely difficult," Senate President Peter Courtney said in a statement. "She is very good at many things. She is excellent with budgets. She is an advocate in many ways before anything else. She has been very involved in housing, homelessness, and criminal justice reform. Tina has served the state well during a challenging time in Oregon’s history. I thank her for her years of service.”

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