State house meets to choose leadership

SALEM, Ore. – The Oregon House’s Republican majority met Thursday to choose its leaders for the 2005 Legislature, and no surprises were expected.

House Speaker Karen Minnis of Wood Village was expected to be nominated for a second term. The speaker officially is elected by the entire House after lawmakers convene, but the majority party obviously has the votes to decide who will hold the post.

Rep. Wayne Scott, a Canby businessman who’ll be in his second term, was expected to be elected by the caucus to continue as House majority leader.

Democrats picked up two Republican-held House seats in Tuesday’s election, narrowing the GOP advantage to 33-27.

Minnis, a conservative on many social and fiscal issues, said she views the smaller flock as still a strong majority.

The GOP caucus for the 2005 Legislature, which begins Jan.10, looks to be more conservative than the one in the 2003 session. Only four of the 11 Republicans who supported an $800 million tax increase measure passed by lawmakers last year are returning.

Of those not returning, two lawmakers were defeated, two were named by Gov. Ted Kulongoski to head state agencies and the rest decided not to run. Voters trounced the tax measure in February.

Two of the remaining GOP moderates — Reps. Billy Dalto and Vickie Berger — are from Salem and have many state employees as constituents.

Minnis is counting on her smaller but more conservative caucus to push for proposals such as a cap on state spending with excess revenue funneled into a reserve account.

She argues that a rainy-day fund could have softened the large state spending cuts that were forced by declining revenue during the recent recession.

Such proposals might quickly die in the new Senate.

Democrats are cool to a spending lid, and they gained three Senate seats in the election to give them a commanding 18-12 majority there.

Even so, Minnis said in a post-election interview, “I think we must try. We would be remiss to ignore what we have gone through and not to have learned from it.”

The last close House race was resolved Thursday when Rep. Alan Brown, R-Newport, gained a 300-vote lead over Democrat Jean Cowan. House GOP caucus spokeswoman Fawn McNeely said there weren’t enough ballots left to change the outcome.