New Democratic leader wants focus on foreclosures

PORTLAND — The new Democratic leader in the Oregon House said Tuesday that she wants the Legislature to focus on foreclosures and on financing for small businesses.

Those issues are among some of Rep. Tina Kotek's top priorities as lawmakers figure out how to spend their time when they return to the Capitol early next year.

"Banks don't want us touching those things, and we are going to have a conversation about that in February," Kotek told The Associated Press in an interview. "Those two things, capital for businesses and people in foreclosure, are going to help the middle class."

Kotek became her party's leader in June when Democrats ousted Rep. Dave Hunt of Gladstone in a rare midterm leadership shake-up. Lawmakers are returning to Salem this week for their first official business since Kotek took over as the Democratic chief. They'll hold committee meetings to discuss potential changes to state law but will not work on specific bills.

Kotek and other Democrats tried this year to pass bills requiring banks to maintain foreclosed properties, slow the foreclosure process and require more regulations. But the languished without GOP support.

Democrats are sharing power with Republicans in the House after voters elected 30 members from each party. Party leaders reached an agreement requiring members of each party to sign off on any bill before it can receive a vote.

Aside from foreclosure and business finance issues, Kotek said she's still working with other Democrats to finalize priorities for a 35-day Legislative session that begins in February. She said she expects discussion about a health insurance exchange and overhauling the state's Medicaid system to dominate much of the Legislature's time, along with updates to the state budget.

Kotek, 44, was elected to the Legislature in 2007 after working for several years as a lobbyist advocating for education, social justice and safety net programs for the Oregon Food Bank and later for Children First. She represents North and Northeast Portland and is the only openly gay member of the Legislature.

She is the descendent of four grandparents who emigrated from eastern Europe, and she said her family's benefits from public education have driven her to focus on improving conditions for vulnerable populations.

"I always try to put our most low-income families and kids first," Kotek said.

Democrats won't be able to accomplish their loftiest ambitions while sharing power with Republicans, Kotek said, so she's focusing much of her time on trying to retake the majority in the 2012 election.

Hunt announced Tuesday that he's running for chair of the Clackamas County Commission.

"I'll work with whoever I'm supposed to work with," said Rep. Kevin Cameron of Salem, Kotek's Republican counterpart. "Each one of us has our own strengths, weaknesses, different personalities."

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