In social media posts and statements, Republicans cast House Speaker Tina Kotek’s decision to eliminate the House Committee on Rural Communities, Land Use and Water next year – a committee Kotek created in 2014 – as evidence that urban lawmakers are ignoring rural areas of the state.
This is a fair critique by Republicans. The economy of rural Oregon barely recovered and did so much more slowly than Portland and it’s suburbs.
Kotek obviously created the Rural Communities committee as lip service to rural Oregon. Now she won’t even give them that. Rural Oregonians and their representatives are right to feel ignored by Democrats in the Oregon Legislature.
Republicans also questioned Kotek’s motives in picking committee assignments for Rep. Knute Buehler, a moderate Republican from Bend often mentioned as a potential contender for governor in 2018.
It’s categorically unfair of The Oregonian to mention Buehler as a possible gubernatorial candidate as a way of discrediting the legitimate question Republicans are asking. Kotek’s aspirations for higher office are well known. Kotek made this clear to Jonathan Miller at Roll Call earlier this year:
When asked about the talk that she might run for governor or Congress, Kotek is not all that coy. “I just want to continue to do a good job as speaker. If that means other things …” she trails off.
The elimination of committees focused on rural issues isn’t a good look for Kotek — who will need votes from rural Oregon if she seeks higher office — even if the other committees do address rural issues as her office claims they will.
Another useful tidbit about the committee assignments appeared in a piece by Taylor Anderson for The Bulletin:
Kotek spokeswoman Lindsey O’Brien said Buehler was kept off the committee because he was appointed to the committee that handles the budget for human services agencies, which includes the Oregon Health Authority, which she said meets at the same time.
It’s a bummer that there is a scheduling conflict. Wait — I just remembered — the Speaker’s office controls that portion of the committee process as well. Her office could have made the necessary changes if so inclined. They were not.
This isn’t a partisan issue. In 2015, Senate Democrat leadership abused their committee powers as well. They removed Senator Betsy Johnson from her spot on a Ways & Means subcommittee so they could pass motor voter. Johnson is a Democrat.
Democrat leadership in Salem will continue to hold the power of committee appointments as leverage to keep Democrat members in line and to try to beat Republicans in the next election.
This arrangement does a disservice to the people of Oregon who deserve to have good policy come before politics as often as is humanly possible.