Oregon House Democrats nominated Rep. Dan Rayfield of Corvallis to be the next speaker of the House in a private vote Sunday night.
Rep. Janelle Bynum of Happy Valley also vied for the top leadership position in the preliminary vote, but a majority of the 34 Democrats who participated in the meeting backed Rayfield, who is co-chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee and known as a skilled fundraiser.
If Bynum had secured her caucus’ support, she would have been on a path to make history as Oregon’s first Black speaker. Bynum played a major role over the last two years in passing police reform and accountability laws.
All 60 members of the House, including 23 Republicans, will participate in a floor vote to select the next speaker when they meet at the Capitol in February. It’s unclear how many Democrats supported Bynum and Rayfield because the tally was kept secret even from caucus members, two Democrats told The Oregonian/OregonLive. Lawmakers requested anonymity to describe caucus developments before they were publicly announced.
Democratic and Republican leaders generally expect their caucuses to coalesce behind the speaker candidates that each caucus selected privately, but that result is not assured.
Speaker Tina Kotek of Portland, the state’s longest serving speaker, is stepping down on Friday to focus on running for governor in the May Democratic primary. Speaker Pro Tem Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, will temporarily become speaker until the House meets again at the Capitol.
House Democrats also voted to select Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, as their majority leader. The previous majority leader, Barbara Smith Warner of Portland, announced to fellow Democrats earlier this month that she was stepping down, in yet another example of broad turnover in legislative leaders and rank-and-file members.
Rayfield, who is a lawyer, said in a statement that he is running to be speaker ”to help guide the House as we collectively work to build a recovery that reaches all Oregonians. Our economy has picked up steam in recent months and I have tremendous optimism about our state’s future. But after years of living in a global pandemic, I know many are still hurting.”
Bynum’s aspiration to be speaker extends back to 2020, when she challenged Kotek for the leadership position before dropping her bid in advance of the full House vote. Bynum said she withdrew from consideration only after Kotek and Smith Warner, the majority leader, agreed to support Bynum if she pursued the role of speaker in the future, a deal that OPB reported was reflected in emails and witnessed by another lawmaker.
Following the vote Sunday night, Bynum said in an interview that the process showed her “how devoid our community is of that political and social capital that you need to ascend to the highest halls of power, and that only comes with intentional mentoring and support and opportunity.”
“I knocked on the door and announced to Oregon that people of color have always been ready, but the door needs to be opened,” Bynum said. “It didn’t happen for me today, but the process, I would say, was cathartic.”
In a statement sent to reporters, Bynum called on the Democratic Party of Oregon to commit to “mentoring, stepping aside, and creating pathways for leadership development” for people of color. Bynum, who along with her husband operates four McDonald’s franchises in Oregon, said Oregonians of color “are capable of so much more than the opportunities that are open to us.”
Bynum is not done pushing for a greater leadership role in the House Democratic caucus. The next speaker will hand out committee assignments and Bynum said she has asked Rayfield to appoint her to the Ways and Means co-chair position he is vacating. “I strongly hope I’ll be considered,” Bynum said.
— Hillary Borrud