Q&A: Speaker Tina Kotek To Leave Gavel And Legislature

House Speaker Tine Kotek.JPG

In her final week in the Oregon Legislature, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, was dropping bills on her way out the door.

Earlier this month she announced she is stepping down from her role as speaker and as a representative for House District 44 in Northeast Portland. The announcement marks the end of a nine-year stretch as Oregon House speaker. Her final day of office is Friday.

Kotek is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, which will be decided in the May primaries. Gov. Kate Brown is term-limited and leaving office. 

Kotek introduced a bill last week that would direct the Oregon Health Authority to seek federal approval for Medicaid reimbursement of community specialists who work in hospital-based intervention programs that address community violence. These specialists help connect people to housing, outreach, counseling and job placement services. The approach is intended to address the underlying problems that lead to community violence. The bill would create  $5 million in state funded grants to help new programs and the Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center’s Healing Hurt People program, which already works with hospitals in Multnomah County.

The following excerpt is from an interview The Lund Report had with Kotek last week has been edited for clarity and brevity.

The Lund Report: What were some of the factors that made you decide that this bill should be one of your final asks of your legislative career?

Tina Kotek: I've always looked over the years for really good ideas happening in other states. And when I heard about what Connecticut had done to interrupt the cycle of violence and keep people safer, and this idea of taking an evidence-based program and taking advantage of potential Medicaid match, I was very excited, because we’re certainly seeing a lot of community violence ongoing in the Portland area. I was like, “That’s it. That is something Oregon needs to do.”

TLR: What were some of the biggest health care milestones you’ve seen in your legislative career?

Kotek: When I first came to the legislature, we had a high rate of uninsurance, and look where we are now. Not only do we have full access to health insurance for all children, we  passed Cover All People in the ‘21 session. We’re on the pathway for insurance access for every Oregon resident. That is the transformation that has really happened. Access to health insurance to help afford what it takes when you get sick is really important. It’s a financial stability issue as well as a health issue for people. That’s really broad, and what we did on reproductive health equity with our comprehensive approach to that, it’s not just about statutorily guaranteed the access to abortion. On the whole range of reproductive health, our bill is still the strongest set of services and protections in the country.

TLR: What are the upcoming challenges for your colleagues in the Legislature as far as health care policy and goals?

Kotek: I think the challenge of this short session is how much can you get done? I am particularly interested in seeing us make progress on the workforce issues, both on the nursing hospital side as well as behavioral health side. There are workforce proposals that I think we need in the near term as well as the long term. Those are really important, given where we are with the stress on the whole health care system. 

TLR: What advice would you give your colleagues in the Legislature as we approach the two-year mark of the pandemic and, hopefully, move toward exiting it?

Kotek: Don't lose hope. We have to keep going because people need us to keep going. I do think that we have to continue to communicate with constituents. This hasn’t gotten any less complex. For example, what does it mean to quarantine now? What are the rules now, when I test positive? It’s really important for legislators to continue to communicate that information on top of whatever the governor and OHA is doing. I hope that everyone can continue to work together and build trust to solve the problems we need to solve. 

You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1.

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