Image for Oregon’s Predictably Unpredictable Politics
Nothing is more unpredictably predictable than Oregon politics.

From Voter Registration to Self-Service Gas to Legislative Walkouts

Oregon’s peculiar brand of politics makes it predictably unpredictable.

A consistently blue state, the number of Oregon Democratic registered voters is shrinking.

After decades of resisting self-service gas, lawmakers in the 2023 session approved legislation letting half of gas station pumps be self-service. Now there is an initiative to ban it again.

Oregonians approved a constitutional amendment in 2022 intended to punish legislators who walk out. Now five Republican senators who walked out for weeks during the 2023 session are in court disputing how the amendment is being interpreted.

Registered Voters
Oregon’s roll of registered voters has grown over the past five years by 8.4 percent to nearly 3 million. But the growth hasn’t been in either the Democratic or Republican parties. Much of that growth is by Oregonians who don’t choose to identify with any political party.

Democratic Party registration sits at 998,380, nearly 15,000 fewer voters than in 2022 and  30,000 fewer than in 2020. Republican registration stands at 721,530, down from 764,216 in 2020. The declines suggest both parties strove to increase voter registration before the 2020 presidential primaries and general election.

The Independent Party has gained 6,000 new voters since 2020. The biggest gains were among non-affiliated registered voters, who now 1,078,486. Data suggests that some non-affiliated voters signed up with a major party in 2020 to vote in Oregon’s closed primaries, then returned to non-affiliated status afterward. That trend might resume next year in the lead-up to presidential and congressional elections. Oregon now has two competitive congressional districts.

Self-Service Gas
It took decades to pass, but possibly only one election to end. The 2023 Oregon legislature approved and Governor Kotek signed a measure that allows Oregonians to pump their own gas, something that is common in most of the country. Until this law passed, Oregon was one of only two states to disallow self-service gas stations.

However, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 has submitted an initiative for the 2024 ballot to make self-serve gas illegal again throughout Oregon. A union spokesman said pumping your own gas has only succeeded in putting gas station attendants out of work.

Backers of the initiative to restore the ban must secure 117,173 valid signatures by July to appear on the November general election ballot.

Under the new law, which gas station owners lobbied for, half of a gas station’s pumps would be for self-service and the other half still served by an attendant.

The union’s initiative is tied up with other issues. The union’s lobbyist didn’t oppose House Bill 2426 when it moved through the legislature, apparently as a compromise with Democratic lawmakers to pass legislation allowing cannabis workers to unionize. The cannabis worker bill didn’t pass and the fallout included a union-led recall drive against Rep. Paul Holvey, which failed, and now the initiative.

The initiative got a quirky endorsement from former Portland Commissioner Steve Novick, a co-petitioner who said, “I am concerned about jobs and I don’t like self-checkout at grocery stores either, but my primary concern is quirkiness. It’s an odd little thing that helps make Oregon, Oregon.”

Measure 113 Court Challenge
The Oregon Supreme Court accepted a challenge to provisions of voter-approved Measure 113 by five state senators, including Senate GOP Leader Tim Knopp, who are barred from seeking re-election because of their participation in the six-week walkout during the 2023 legislative session.

The initiative approved in the 2022 election attempted to bar legislators from re-election who racked up 10 or more unexcused absences during a legislative session. The language of Measure 113 can be construed as imposing the re-election penalty in an election after the offending lawmaker’s term in office ends. The five senators are serving terms that end after the November 2024 election.

Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade has interpreted Measure 113 in a manner consistent with how the initiative was described in the 2022 campaign.

The five Republican senators and Griffin-Valade have agreed to a speedy court decision before the filing deadline in March for the 2024 legislative elections. That timetable meant skipping lower court proceedings and going straight to the Supreme Court. Oral arguments for both sides are scheduled for December 14.