A longtime lawmaker and Bend Republican will serve as the Oregon Senate Republicans’ newest leader, taking the role at a time when the caucus is deeply divided and fighting to remain relevant.

Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, was elected on Friday after Sen. Fred Girod, R-Lyons, stepped down for health reasons.

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Oregon state Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, speaks on the floor of the Senate on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, at the Oregon Capitol in Salem, Ore.

Oregon state Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, speaks on the floor of the Senate on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, at the Oregon Capitol in Salem, Ore.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

Although tension within the Senate GOP caucus has been evident in the past several months, Knopp said his members were unified in their opposition of the supermajority Democrat’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Democrats have shut down businesses, churches and schools,” he said. “They have told Oregonians they can’t visit their relatives or whether they can have a job. Our Republican caucus is very opposed to those mandates and overreaches that have severely damaged thousands.”

Part of Knopp’s new job responsibilities will be overseeing legislative campaigns.

“The biggest goal is to add numbers to the caucus. To create more balance in Oregon,” he said. “Right now, the Legislature is way out of balance and one view is over-represented based on where Oregonians are really at. So it’s important to rebalance those numbers.”

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Knopp is considered a more moderate member of his 11-person caucus. In 2019, he was the first Republican caucus member to call on his colleague, Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, to resign after Kruse was accused of sexual harassment. Knopp later worked with Democratic senators on legislation to prevent workplace harassment.

Knopp’s GOP caucus made national headlines for twice walking out of the Capitol to oppose climate change legislation. Knopp was the lone Senate Republican who stayed in the state Capitol during the initial walkout. At the time, he said, he was staying in the Capitol to work on legislation important to his district. Later, however, he participated in other walkouts, leaving the Capitol to prevent the cap-and-trade proposal from becoming law.

Knopp will oversee the Republican caucus at a time when the pressure to continue to boycott the Capitol to block legislation has never been higher. When the previous Senate leader, Girod, voted against strengthening gun laws — rather than attempting to kill the bill by fleeing — gun-rights groups typically aligned with Republicans mounted a recall campaign in an effort to oust him.

Republican senators are also grappling with tension over whether their members should be able to both hold office as a state elected official and as an officer with the central committee of an Oregon political party. Two state Senators are also members of the state GOP leadership, which has raised concerns internally in the GOP about mixing party politics with legislative policy making.

Knopp was instrumental in creating the family medical leave program — ensuring families could take paid time off to care for babies and sick family members without losing their jobs. He pushed legislation to enshrine Oregon’s unique “kicker” law into the constitution. He’s tried to lower the costs of the state’s pension system and fought to ensure that people don’t have to vaccinate themselves or their children against anything they don’t want to. More recently, he led the Senate Republicans efforts on redistricting.

Knopp has served on and off in the state Legislature for decades. He started in the state Senate in 2013. Previously, he served in the statehouse from 1999 to 2005 and was elected as the Oregon House Majority Leader.

On Friday, Gov. Kate Brown — another person who has worked in the state Capitol for decades — called to congratulate Knopp.

When he got off the phone, Knopp said his style has always been “good policy over politics.”

“You can disagree without being disagreeable,” he said. “We need to treat each other with respect and that goes a long way. That is how I work. And I think that’s why I have gotten a lot of important legislation passed for Oregonians.”

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