After the Oregon Legislature approved $400 million in new spending at the Dec. 13 special session—notably for renters facing a winter eviction and farmers harmed by drought— lawmakers and political players praised the negotiating skills of Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend) as the person responsible for convincing Senate Republicans to approve four bills whose chief sponsors were Democrats.
Knopp, elected as Senate Minority Leader on Oct. 22 by his caucus, not only convinced Senate Republicans it was the right deal, he did so without caving into his party's steadfast voices—the bomb-throwers such as Sen. Dallas Heard (R-Medford) and Sen. Dennis Linthicum (R-Klamath Falls) who express outrage and cry foul at any and all liberal policies.
Betsy Johnson, the pertinacious now-former lawmaker who on Dec. 15 relinquished her role as senator to focus on running for governor in 2022, said Knopp's prodigious work ethic and talent for steering bipartisan compromise won the day. Sen. Fred Girod (R-Lyons), who Knopp replaced as chair of the Senate Republican Caucus, said the Bend senator's broad perspective and understanding of each voting district's concerns allowed him to bring senate Republicans together. House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) said Knopp negotiated in good faith to provide urgent relief for all parts of the state.
Knopp, the sole member of the Republican caucus who stayed at the Capitol during the 2020 walkout, and a former House Majority Leader from 1998-2005, said even though lawmakers politically are more divided than ever, it's his job as Senate Minority Leader to strike a balance.
"Social media has created a negative culture," Knopp said. "I'm a firm believer (Republicans) need to engage as much as possible on policy matters as opposed to running from them, so you need to convince (lawmakers) of your position and work to position them in the pocket in a positive way."
The Republican party is counting on Knopp to motivate voters and get Senate Republicans to work together in the run-up to the November 2022 general election, but his success is far from guaranteed. His primary goal will be adding caucus members by finding a path for Republicans, which last controlled the Oregon House in 2006 and the Senate in 2002, to overcome Democrats' long-standing majority—something observers consider a long shot at best. Knopp, however, sees a path to victory for Senate Republicans.
“Just as Republicans in Virginia saw a path to victory, Republican and Independent voters in Oregon are looking for checks and balances against the policies of the Democratic supermajority that they don’t agree with.”—Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend)tweet this
Knopp said several districts are in play and winnable, including Senate District 3 in southern Jackson County, last held by a Republican in 2018; along with District 6, which after redistricting comprises all of Springfield and portions of rural Lane and Linn counties; District 10, held from 2002-2019 by the late Republican Sen. Jackie Winters; District 13, which includes mostly rural Washington, Marion, Yamhill and Clackamas counties; District 16, from which Johnson stepped down; and District 20 in Clackamas County, held by Republicans since 2010 but open now that Sen. Christine Drazan (R-Canby) stepped down to run for governor.
Knopp points to the November election in Virginia, where right-leaning voters in suburban and rural areas catapulted Republican Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin and House Republicans to victory, saying the same thing can happen in Oregon.
"Just as Republicans in Virginia saw a path to victory, Republican and Independent voters in Oregon are looking for checks and balances against the policies of the Democratic supermajority that they don't agree with," Knopp said. "I don't think there's any question we will differentiate ourselves during the election from the overreaching policies of the last several years. Most people outside metro areas don't think they are being represented well. I think they want to weigh in more in the coming election cycle."
Girod and Johnson agree that, as Senate minority leader, Knopp will focus much of his efforts on adding caucus members in the 2022 election. But Knopp said his own District 27 remains his underlying focus.
Knopp's political acumen was instrumental in persuading all but two Senate Republicans on Dec. 13 to approve Senate Bill 5561, which provides affordable housing and homeless support for 14 cities, including $1 million for the City of Bend that Mayor Sally Russell said is greatly needed. He also administered $1 million, part of the redistricting money awarded to each senator, to start a new child care pilot program in Bend, which will directly correlate to parents being able to get back to work, Bend Chamber of Commerce Director Katy Brooks said.
"He's been really receptive to a lot of stuff the business community wants, and that's not always something you see (in politicians)," Brooks said. "We greatly enjoy working with him."
Reagan Knopp, former director of the nonprofit Oregon Right to Life, who harbors his own political aspirations, said his father's ability to make a genuine connection with people transcends political limitations and bodes well for Senate Republicans and right-leaning voters.
"He's about transcending political labels and partisanship to get down to what motivates lawmakers and what voters care about," he said. "He'll come at it from a more moderate-conservative perspective, but his core values are something both parties can get behind."