Voters Approve State Ballot Measures and Local School Bonds
The Republican Red Wave never materialized in Oregon or anywhere except Florida as Democrats retained control of the statehouse, albeit without supermajorities in the Oregon House and Senate. Tina Kotek will become governor by eking out a narrow victory over Republican Christine Drazan and despite the non-affiliated candidacy of Betsy Johnson that polling suggests drew away Democratic votes from Kotek.
Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici and Congressman Earl Blumenauer cruised to re-election. Preliminary vote counts indicate Val Hoyle will succeed retiring Congressman Peter DeFazio in the Fourth District and Andrea Salinas will capture the state’s new Sixth Congressional District. Christina Stephenson was elected Labor Commissioner.
Oregon Republicans will have to settle for whittling down Democratic supermajorities in the legislature and picking up a second congressional seat in the Fifth District, currently held by Democrat Kurt Schrader who was defeated in the primary. GOP Congressman Cliff Bentz easily won re-election in the Second District.
Voters expressed strong views by approving ballot measures to prevent lawmakers with 10 or more unexcused absences to seek re-election and to impose what some call the toughest gun control law in the nation. Voters also approved removing from Oregon’s Constitution a provision permitting involuntary servitude for persons convicted of crimes. A fourth ballot measure that would make affordable healthcare a constitutional right is too close to call based on preliminary voting.
Lori Chavez-DeReemer is holding a slight lead over Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner in the Fifth Congressional District. Late-counting votes in Clackamas County are likely to determine the final winner. DeReemer, a former mayor of Happy Valley, has polled well in her home county. If she wins the seat, it could help Republicans recapture control of the House.
A handful of legislative races remain too close to call, but indications suggest Democrats will have 16 or 17 members in the Senate and fewer than their current 37 members in the House, with six races still up in the air. Republicans were opportunistic in picking up five open House seats, including one by former GOP lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate Kevin Mannix.
Other legislative election notes:
- Of the races decided so far, 21 to 23 incoming lawmakers will be brand new to the legislative process.
- Aaron Woods, a Democrat, retired Xerox employee and member of the Wilsonville Planning Commission, will be the only new Senate member with no previous legislative experience.
- The five Vietnamese-Americans running as Democrats all won House seats.
- More than $115 million was spent on Oregon races this election cycle, with $76 million by the three major gubernatorial campaigns.
- House Speaker Dan Rayfield of Corvallis and House Republican Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson of Prineville were re-elected.
- Republican Senator Kim Thatcher won re-election, but in a new district centered in Salem that is currently held by retiring Democratic Senate President Peter Courtney.
- Senate GOP Leader Tim Knopp wasn’t up for re-election this year.
- One of the hardest fought, but too close to call contests is in Clackamas County where incumbent GOP Senator Bill Kennemer is trying to fend off a challenge from Democratic Rep. Mark Meek.
- Despite a solidly purple voter makeup in Marion County, Salem has shown itself to lean blue in the last decade. The city council, mayor and legislative seats (particularly the Senate seat previously held by Republican Jackie Winters and now held by Deb Patterson) have shown a significant turnout advantage for Democratic candidates.
Stephenson’s election as Labor Commissioner may signal a change in labor law enforcement. A civil rights attorney, Stephenson appears focused on the job as opposed to using it as stepping stone to higher office.
Kotek won with less than 50 percent of the vote, which may influence her choices for policy advisors and agency heads. Her victory speech reflected that reality::
“Oregon faces major challenges, and I look forward to getting to work to solve them. I promise to be a governor for all of Oregon. I will start by working tirelessly to deliver results on issues of shared concern across our state: housing and homelessness, access to mental health and addiction treatment, helping our students succeed, and supporting small businesses. I ask Oregonians – no matter who you voted for in this election – to believe in our state, to stay engaged. and to help figure out solutions together. I am honored and humbled by this opportunity to serve Oregon, and I will strive every day to be a force for positive change in our state.”
She will have her work cut out for her. Two more Eastern Oregon counties voted to authorize their county officials to pursue realignment to “Greater Idaho”. Eleven of Oregon’s 36 counties have indicated an interest in joining their neighboring state.
The three-way gubernatorial race shattered previous campaign spending records as Johnson mounted an early, well-funded effort to appeal to moderate Democrats and Republicans. National Republicans saw Johnson’s candidacy as an opening for a Republican to win the governorship for the first time in 40 years with an appealing, non-Trumpian candidate. That set off alarm bells with Democrats who sought to match spending by Johnson and Drazan.
Political insiders believe Johnson’s candidacy, which only attracted 9 percent of the general election vote, siphoned off votes that normally would go to a Democrat. Kotek’s campaign relied heavily on a get-out-the-vote effort and a final push with campaign stops in Oregon by President Biden and Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Former President Barack Obama cut a TV ad promoting for Kotek.
Heavy spending produced a surfeit of campaign ads. One report indicated Portland TV stations aired 26,000 political ads from Labor Day to election day.
In local elections, Portland voters approved a new municipal form of government that replaces an archaic system with an untested system that includes multi-member regional districts, a county administrator and ranked choice voting.
Voters in six out of nine Oregon school districts approved funding measures. The exceptions were in Parkrose, Sheridan and Jackson County. Portland Community College won approval for a $450 million bond to modernize its Rock Creek and Sylvania campuses and expand career education.
More than 80 percent of voters in Josephine County rejected a 3 percent seasonal sales tax to bolster the County’s historically understaffed sheriff’s department.