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Rep. Dan Rayfield is likely to be Oregon’s next House speaker

Kristyna Wentz-Graff
Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, on the House Chamber floor at the Oregon State Capitol, May 18, 2021 in Salem, Ore.

The four-term lawmaker from Corvallis won approval from fellow Democrats on Sunday, all but ensuring his election when the House votes Feb. 1.

State Rep. Dan Rayfield is likely to take control of the Oregon House in February, after being officially nominated by Democratic representatives for the post on Sunday.

Rayfield, of Corvallis, prevailed in a contested race to replace longtime speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland. He won out against state Rep. Janelle Bynum, of Happy Valley, who had hoped to become the first Black speaker of the House in state history.

“I’m deeply honored that my caucus has entrusted me with this nomination,” Rayfield said in a statement. “I recognize this comes with tremendous responsibility at a pivotal moment for families across our state.”

With the nod from supermajority Democrats, Rayfield is all but certain to win a formal election by all 60 House members when the Legislature convenes Feb. 1. His nomination comes a little more than a week after Kotek surprised many in her party by announcing she would step down Jan. 21 — before lawmakers convene for a month-long short session — in order to focus on her campaign for governor.

Democrats’ vote Sunday occurred via video conference, and was conducted by secret ballot.

In her own statement Sunday, Bynum congratulated Rayfield, and repeated her contention that Oregon must help ensure people of color are given opportunities to lead.

“I issue this challenge to the Democratic Party: Commit to mentoring, stepping aside, and creating pathways for leadership development,” Bynum said. “These are the ways qualified Oregonians of color will enter into these halls of power. We are capable of so much more than the opportunities that are open to us.”

In an interview, Bynum said she felt as though she was challenging entrenched power in her speaker bid. She said she’d expected Kotek to support her for the role, after the two hashed out a deal last year. Kotek instead did not make an endorsement.

“I’ve always been about challenging this notion of Black or brown leadership that’s not ready or not qualified,” said Bynum, a former engineer who holds an MBA and owns several McDonald’s restaurants. “I know just like in corporate America, it takes people to open doors, it takes people to train and mentor. I didn’t have those and I got really far. I was taken seriously.”

Nor is she done pressing for more influence. Shortly after Sunday’s vote, Bynum said she texted Rayfield to offer her congratulations — and make a request. She would like to be considered for co-chair of the Legislative budget committee, a position Rayfield currently holds, and one of the most powerful roles in the Capitol.

Rayfield, 42, is a trial lawyer and occasional polka player who was first elected to the House in 2014. He previously declined to discuss his bid for speaker, but in Sunday’s statement emphasized the challenges Oregon still faces from the coronavirus pandemic.

“I know many are still hurting. The Omicron variant is contributing to workforce shortages and challenges for our students, educators and families,” Rayfield said. “But I know there is a brighter future ahead and I am committed to working with both parties and both chambers to lead the entire state forward.”

As was widely expected, House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, also stepped down from the post Sunday. Taking her place will be Rep. Julie Fahey, of Eugene.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Dirk VanderHart is JPR's Salem correspondent reporting from the Oregon State Capitol. His reporting is funded through a collaboration between public radio stations around the Northwest called the Northwest News Network.