The Oregon Senate Republican caucus chose a new leader for the first time in more than a decade Wednesday. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, won a closed-door election to lead the 13-member Senate GOP delegation.
It was a decision that came as somewhat of a surprise to the long-time lawmaker.
“I did not seek it out,” Winters said. “I didn’t have a written speech.”
Winters replaces Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, who had served as caucus leader since 2005. Ferrioli is resigning his eastern Oregon seat at the end of December to take a position on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.
Winters is known at the Oregon Capitol as a political moderate. It’s a label she accepts.
“If they mean moderate in that you seek to bring about consensus and try to find some ground where you get things accomplished, then yes,” she said.
As the Senate chair of the Ways & Means Public Safety Subcommittee, Winters is one of a handful of Republicans to hold a gavel in Salem.
Her selection was quickly praised by other Senate leaders.
“Jackie’s wisdom and sense of fairness will make her an exceptional leader and will help make the Legislature work,” said Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem.
And Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, said “Senator Winters brings a wealth of leadership experience in state government and has earned a deep respect among her peers on both sides of the aisle.”
Winters is the only African-American woman in the Oregon Senate, and one of just two in the entire Oregon Legislature.
“Jackie Winters is the epitome of a great legislator, but she is also symbolically important,” said Kevin Mannix, a former state lawmaker and former chair of the Oregon Republican Party.
Mannix called Winters a “solid Republican, and I think that sends a message that Republicans are looking toward leaders who provide results, and we do have a willingness to reach out regardless of race, creed, national origin, that sort of thing.”
Winters, 80, announced in August that she was undergoing treatment for lung cancer. She said Wednesday that she is now in remission.
“This building has been extremely supportive in helping me get through this,” Winters said.