After contentious caucus meeting, Hunt is in; Nolan is out - but what's next?

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

After a six-seat loss in the November elections dropped the House Democrats from a 36-seat supermajority into a 30-30 tie with the House Republicans, there's been a lot of chatter about the makeup of the House Democrats' leadership team. And, of course, the bigger question: Will the Ds or the Rs find a way to seize power with an aisle-crosser - or will they work out a co-governance model as the Senate did in 2003?

Chapter 1 is now in the books. Last night, the House Democrats had a closed caucus meeting in which they elected their leadership team. Without a clear path to the Speakership, the Democrats were down one spot - and in the game of musical chairs that ensued, majority leader Mary Nolan was left without a seat at the leadership table.

While the vote for leader is a secret ballot (and a vote whose exact totals are unknown even to caucus members), it's clear that both Dave Hunt and Mary Nolan had substantial bases of support inside the caucus. Ultimately, Hunt prevailed as the Democratic leader, but it wasn't pretty.

WW's Nigel Jaquiss described the proceedings as "a verbal clash between Hunt and Nolan" - a description that I've confirmed independently with a number of folks in the room (though one of my sources went further and called it a "screaming match.") [Update: At least one legislator, Rep. Peter Buckley (D-Ashland), disputes the characterization of the discussion as a "screaming match" as posted in the comments.]

In a typical year, the top dogs in the two caucuses are the candidates they put forward for Speaker - usually in a pro forma way, since one party has a clear majority.

But in a 30-30 situation, all bets are off. While Speaker Hunt would surely like to hang on to his seat, it's unclear whether the Republican caucus will be willing to even negotiate with Hunt - who has developed a reputation as a bare-knuckled political street fighter. It's also unclear whether Hunt would have the unananimous support of his fellow Democrats - given the contentious battle with Mary Nolan.

So, what's next?

The House Democrats will assign a handful of their members to negotiate with GOP leader Bruce Hanna and his team.

What's at stake? Oregon's Speaker of the House typically has a lot of power - the power to appoint committee chairs, the power to shut down committees, the power to decide which bills come to the floor, and more.

But all of these are negotiable items. One thing that's not negotiable - that committee memberships will be proportionate to the overall makeup of the body. In other words, every committee is going to be evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Update: A brief correction - whether the committees are split proportionately is a matter of legislative rule (a rule implemented in 2007 by then-Speaker Jeff Merkley). Thus, committee makeup (50/50 or not) is a negotiable item, though it'd be unlikely to see that change in a 30/30 House, no matter who gains control.

Given that, it seems more likely that we'll have a negotiated power-sharing agreement rather than a forcible seizure of power by getting one or two aisle-crossers. Why? Because if one side seizes power, the losing side will be outraged - and will be able to deny a majority vote to every single bill in every committee (except perhaps, ones where the aisle-crosser sits.)

So, the first chapter is written. But this is where it gets interesting. Stay tuned.

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    A note about sourcing: Over the last 24 hours, I've spoken to a large number of sources with knowledge of what happened in the room - legislators who are clients of my firm and legislators who are not. I've also talked with a number of second-hand sources with their own first-hand sources of what happened.

    As you can imagine, no one is willing to talk on the record about caucus meetings closed to the public.

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    I should also note for the record the entire makeup of the House Ds leadership team:

    • Dave Hunt, caucus leader
    • Tina Kotek, whip
    • Tobias Read, deputy whip
    • Jules Bailey, assistant leader for policy
    • Phil Barnhart, assistant leader for policy
    • Val Hoyle, assistant leader for politics
    • Jefferson Smith, assistant leader for politics
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    I hope the divisions heal soon. Does anyone know if there is a Republican that the Dems could live with as Speaker?

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    I would be interested in who will control Future PAC. Will it be Hunt as it was the last cycle? Or will he delegate that to Val Hoyle and Jefferson Smith, the Asst. Leaders for politics?

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    I sincerely hope we'll see some superior leadership out of Rep. Hunt when it comes to land-use issues. I plan to watch this one extra closely.

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    FYI: I updated my post to make a brief clarification about the 50/50 committee membership rule.

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    (though one of my sources went further and called it a "screaming match.")

    Better get a new source.

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    I received the following comment for publication from Rep. Peter Buckley (who just created a Facebook account, and thus couldn't comment right away here.)

    Rep. Peter Buckley:

    This is absolutely not true. There was no screaming match, and whoever says there was is not only not telling the truth, they are demeaning two very good people and our caucus as well. I'm proud to serve with both Nolan and Hunt--they are great legislators, and both vital to the House Democratic caucus.
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    Folks, I think what we have here is nothing more than a disagreement over the word "screaming".

    Since I wasn't there, I can only report how others described it.

    I know that in my life, different people mean different things when they say "scream" or "yell." In my book, those words imply raised tempers and high volumes -- others use them to simply mean "strong disagreement."

    Certainly, my sources are in agreement (as are, apparently, Nigel Jaquiss's) that there was some substantial verbal sparring going on.

    Beyond that, I'm not sure that parsing out the definition of "screaming" really matters. It certainly doesn't to me. Which is why I included it as a parenthetical note, rather than leading with it.

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      Thank you Kari. Verbal sparring is valid and comports to what I have been told by folks who were directly involved. And I would hope, even expect that to take place.

      But "screaming match" isn't "parsing" as it inaccurately portrays it as a rude, acrimonious verbal fight. This wasn't that.

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        Back in the bag, kitty!

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        There's a good number of first hand witnesses who describe this altercation as just that: a rude, acrimonious verbal fight.

        If I'd only heard this from one or two people--I'd be willing to dismiss it as rumor or without fact. There are just too many firsthand accounts to the contrary.

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          Now it is an "altercation"...?


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            That's generally an appropriate synonym for an acrimonious argument or fight.

            Honestly, I'm all about the truth. So if some folks want to approach me privately who have first hand knowledge to the contrary, I'm certainly open to listening. I'm simply going by the multiple accounts I've heard from first hand witnesses.

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              Not in everyday parlance, where most people take the word "altercation" to mean a low-level physical fight (despite what the dictionary definition of the word is).

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                I agree. Altercation means some pushing/shoving, lots of smack talk and chest puffing. Usually involving those under the age of 35 and always involving alcohol. ;)

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                  I disagree with this statement in some respects:

                  Usually involving those under the age of 35 and always involving alcohol.

                  Because in my younger days I had the harrowing experience of being a park district umpire for little league baseball back in Illinois, where more than one altercation involving shoving, pushing, smack talk and chest puffing were in glorious display and involved people over the age of 35 and without the aid of alcohol (at least none were smelled on the breaths of those involved or evidence of consumption in the vicinity of the game).


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    Sorry folks, but the average 2 yr old can define what a screaming match is.

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    The only identified source disputes the characterization. All the rest are of the "some say" variety. And Nigel is just one step removed from the same sources, not an additional "source" at all.

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