Oregon Senate Democrats tap Portland’s Kathleen Taylor as new caucus leader

Oregon Senate Democrats on Monday picked Portland Sen. Kathleen Taylor, who played a key role in negotiations to end the 2023 Republican walkout, as their next caucus leader.

Taylor will succeed Sen. Kate Lieber, a Beaverton Democrat who is leaving the top caucus role to become the new Senate co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee. Both changes, which will take effect on July 15, result from current Ways and Means co-chair Elizabeth Steiner, D-Portland, stepping down to focus on her campaign for state treasurer. 

“I’m grateful to Senator Lieber for her service and for leading the Senate Democratic caucus to deliver major wins for the people of Oregon,” Taylor said in a statement. “I’m ready to get to work so we can continue moving our state in the right direction.”

Sen. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, also vied for the top caucus job. She’ll remain the deputy majority leader. Majority Whips Sara Gelser Blouin of Corvallis and Lew Frederick of Portland and Assistant Majority Leaders Kayse Jama of Portland and Wlnsvey Campos of Aloha round out the Democratic leadership team in the Senate. 

Taylor served one term in the House before she was elected to the Senate in 2016. She is the chair of the Senate Labor and Business Committee and has focused much of her work on labor laws, including passing paid family medical leave and updating Oregon’s pay equity laws. 

In 2023, her friendship with then-Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp proved crucial to helping end a six-week standoff that prevented the Senate from passing any bills. Taylor stepped in to help with negotiations to end Senate Republicans’ walkout after earlier efforts failed. 

Lieber called Taylor’s election “an exciting moment for our caucus and the entire state,” saying she knows Taylor will build on recent accomplishments. 

“Leader-elect Taylor brings a wealth of knowledge and skills to this office, and I am confident that she will be the strong, capable leader Oregonians need in the Senate,” Lieber said. “I’m so proud of what we have accomplished as a caucus over the past two years – from major investments in growing our economy to tackling urgent problems like homelessness and the drug crisis. I know Leader-elect Taylor will build on these accomplishments and take us even further,”

As leader, Taylor will play a key role in running coordinated general election campaigns and setting and advocating for the caucus priorities in 2025. Senate Democrats hope to pick up two more seats in competitive districts in Bend and along the central coast now represented by Republicans, while defending Sen. Chris Gorsek’s potentially close district in east Multnomah County. 

The change means House Minority Leader Jeff Helfrich, a Hood River Republican who took the reins last September, will be the longest-tenured caucus leader.

House Democrats elected Tigard Rep. Ben Bowman as their new leader in March after former Majority Leader Julie Fahey of Eugene ascended to speaker, and Senate Republicans chose Daniel Bonham of The Dalles in April because former leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, is barred from running for reelection because he led a six-week walkout in 2023. Bonham is also banned from reelection under a state constitutional amendment that bars lawmakers with 10 or more unexcused absences from running again, but his term lasts until 2027.

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Julia Shumway is deputy editor of Oregon Capital Chronicle and has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.