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Oregon House Democrats pick Rep. Ben Bowman as new majority leader

FILE - Oregon Rep. Ben Bowman, D-Tigard, during the opening of the legislative short session at the Capitol in Salem, Ore., Feb. 5, 2024. Democrats selected Bowman to be the next House majority leader.

FILE – Oregon Rep. Ben Bowman, D-Tigard, during the opening of the legislative short session at the Capitol in Salem, Ore., Feb. 5, 2024. Democrats selected Bowman to be the next House majority leader.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Democrats in the Oregon House have a new majority leader heading into an election season where they’ll be looking to expand their ranks.

State Rep. Ben Bowman, D-Tigard, won the nod from his party colleagues in a closed-door vote Wednesday evening. He beat out state Reps. Andrea Valderrama, D-Portland, and Jason Kropf, D-Bend, for the job.

With the decision, Democrats elected the chamber’s second-youngest member to help guide their political races and policy aims. Bowman, 32, is a freshman lawmaker with a reputation for sharp political instincts. A former legislative staffer and onetime chair of the Tigard-Tualatin School Board, Bowman ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2020. He works as an administrator in the Gladstone School District and hosts a politics podcast, “The Bridge,” alongside Reagan Knopp, a Republican staffer in the Senate.

The leadership switch is part of a larger change at the House, set into motion when House Speaker Dan Rayfield stepped aside at the end of the legislative session on March 7. That move, in the works for months, allowed Democrats to approve then-Majority Leader Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, as speaker, creating a vacancy. The party has a 35-25 advantage in the chamber.

Despite the lofty title, the role of majority leader is sometimes seen as more of a burden than a prize. It comes with no additional pay, but lots of extra work. It’s the leader’s job to help raise money, steer House races in election season, and pull Democrats together to pass a cohesive policy agenda during session.

But the job can also be a stopping place for ambitious lawmakers on the way to bigger things. Gov. Tina Kotek and U.S. Rep. Val Hoyle both served stints as House Democratic leader. Former Gov. Kate Brown was once majority leader in the Senate.

As majority leader this year, Fahey helped broker a historic deal between labor, business and so-called “good government” groups that paved the way for lawmakers to pass campaign finance limits for the first time.

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