Senate leader Courtney says he's sticking around

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney says he has no plans to step aside, despite a bruising legislative session that saw two walkouts by Republicans and criticism from some of his fellow majority Democrats about the Legislature's failure to pass a climate change bill and other measures.

Courtney told The Oregonian/OregonLive that "I'm not going anywhere." The 76-year-old lawmaker says he's already conferring with House Speaker Tina Kotek about how to pass a cap-and-tread measure to curb greenhouse gas emissions next year.

That bill sparked the GOP's second Senate walkout of the 2019 Legislature. They returned after more than a week away from the Capitol after it became clear the environmental bill wouldn't pass this session.

Environmental activists took aim at Courtney, the longtime Democrat from Salem, after he conceded defeat on the climate bill five days before the 2019 session ended. With all 11 Senate Republicans still away from Salem, he announced his caucus of 18 Senate Democrats couldn't muster the needed 16 votes to pass the bill - clearing the way for Republicans to return and claim victory over its defeat.

Tom Kelly, chair of Oregon Business for Climate, issued a statement after Courtney's carbon bill announcement, calling it an "extraordinary breach of faith with how our legislative process should work."

On Thursday, Kelly said he was frustrated Courtney announced the plan lacked Democratic support because "I was told by people, inside people, that there were the votes and votes had been counted by other people including our governor."

Whether Courtney should retire, Kelly said, "is not for me to say."

Sen. Jeff Golden, a liberal Democrat from Ashland, was among a handful of Democrats who pushed for caucus rule changes last fall that would have reduced the Senate president's powers, for example over which bills receive a vote. Golden said this week it's "time for a reset" and Democrats "need to find new ways to get legislation done."

He declined to comment "on supporting Peter or not right now."

Even if Senate Democrats did want a new leader, it's not clear who might ascend to the job.

The full 30-member Senate votes to select a president, so any Democratic senator would have to secure the votes of 16 in their party or line up bipartisan support. Courtney overwhelmingly won re-election in January with bipartisan support.