Oregon Legislature: Republicans gain, Democrats keep control
Democrat Tina Kotek will start her term as governor with her party holding majorities in both the Oregon House and Senate.
But unofficial results from the Nov. 8 election reduced those numbers by at least one in the Senate and two in the House, so Democrats will not have the 60% supermajorities required to pass revenue-raising measures on their own. They will have to get help from Republicans, who flipped some seats but lost others.
One other notable fact or two: Nearly half of the 60-member House will be new or have served less than a full two-year cycle. Five of them are Vietnamese Americans, equaling the number of Asian American legislators in Oregon history.
"She will do fine coming into the governorship," said Ed Dover, political science professor emeritus at Western Oregon University, after a Nov. 18 talk to the Salem City Club.
Kotek is among four recent governors, all Democrats, who start their terms with legislative majorities of their own parties.
The others: Bob Straub and Neil Goldschmidt, who each served one term, and Kate Brown, who inherited her majorities when she became governor in February 2015 upon the resignation under pressure of John Kitzhaber just 38 days into his fourth term.
All the other governors, going back to Republican Mark Hatfield in 1959, faced at least one chamber in control of the other party or split evenly. (In Tom McCall's first term in 1967, the Senate was controlled by a bipartisan coalition that held sway from 1957 until 1972, when Democrats won outright control.)
Republican Vic Atiyeh faced Democratic majorities during his eight years, and Democrat Kitzhaber faced Republican majorities during his first eight years. It was only in 2013, midway through his record third term, that Kitzhaber had Democratic majorities in both chambers.
Kotek and the new and reelected lawmakers take office Jan. 9, when the 2023 session opens.
Rob Wagner of Lake Oswego, the current Senate majority leader, is the Democratic nominee for Senate president. Dan Rayfield of Corvallis, who has been House speaker since Kotek resigned earlier this year to make her bid for governor, is the Democratic nominee for a full two-year term.
They will be the first new presiding officers in a decade.
Kotek had been speaker for a record nine years, since 2013. Democrat Peter Courtney of Salem is retiring from the Legislature after a record 38 years, the last 20 of them as Senate president. That's also an Oregon record.
In the 30-member Senate, 12 Democrats and four Republicans were elected or reelected. One was for an unexpired two-year term in the District 18 seat vacated a year ago by Democrat Ginny Burdick.
They will join five Democrats, eight Republicans and the lone nonaffiliated senator, Brian Boquist of Dallas, who are in the middle of their four-year terms and were not up for election this cycle.
The current lineup is 18 Democrats, 11 Republicans and one nonaffiliated. Democrats were poised to lose the District 16 seat that Democrat Betsy Johnson vacated last year in her losing nonaffiliated bid for governor. (That seat, plus the two House districts within it, have now gone to Republicans.)
Only one incumbent senator appeared to have lost. Republican Bill Kennemer of Oregon City, who was appointed to the District 20 seat in 2021 after Alan Olsen of Canby moved out of state, trailed three-term Democratic Rep. Mark Meek of Gladstone by 373 votes of more than 58,000 cast. That margin, however, is well above the 116 that would trigger an automatic recount under state law.
The total excludes challenged and provisional ballots. Counties have until Dec. 5 to certify official results that include such ballots.
Kennemer was first elected to the Senate in 1986, the Clackamas County board in 1996, and to the House in 2008. He did not seek reelection in 2018.
Meek is one of five representatives moving to the Senate. The others are Democrats Wlnsvey Campos of Aloha and Republicans Daniel Bonham of The Dalles, Cedric Hayden of Fall Creek and Suzanne Weber of Tillamook. Campos, the youngest senator, won the District 18 seat that now has shifted into Washington County. She will be up for a full four-year term in 2024.
Though not new, Sen. Kim Thatcher of Keizer won the District 11 seat vacated by Courtney's retirement. Thatcher had been in the Senate eight years, after 10 years in the House, but lost her District 13 seat as a result of redistricting. Democrat Aaron Woods of Wilsonville, a retired technology executive, won the newly redrawn seat.
The House is a different story.
Democrats won 35 seats and Republicans 25 seats, a net change of two from the current lineup, assuming that unofficial results are certified.
The current lineup is 37 Democrats and 23 Republicans, so the two-seat loss brings Democrats below the supermajority threshold of 36.
Democrats reelected 21 members and three midterm appointees, plus 11 new members.
Republicans reelected 12 members and three midterm appointees, plus 10 new members.
No incumbent or appointee who sought election lost.
Of the total who have served less than a full term, Democrat Andrea Valderrama of Portland was appointed midway through the 2021 session to succeed Diego Hernandez, who resigned before the House was set to vote on his expulsion. Valderrama is now the majority whip, the No. 3 position in the House Democratic leadership.
Republican Kevin Mannix of Salem is returning to the House after an absence of more than two decades. Mannix was a Democratic member from 1989 to 1997, when he switched parties, and a Republican member from 1999 to 2001. Mannix also was a two-time candidate for attorney general (1996 and 2000), governor (2002 and 2006), and for the 5th District congressional seat in 2008. He was the GOP nominee for attorney general in 2000 and governor in 2002, but lost both general elections.
Republican Jeff Helfrich of Hood River was appointed to a vacancy in 2018 but lost the seat to a Democrat later that year. He came close in 2020 in a rematch with the Democrat, Anna Williams, who did not run again and resigned her seat before the Nov. 8 election.
The modern record for turnover is 28 seats back in 1973, after Oregon went to single-member legislative districts. (Prior to a 1971 redistricting, some representatives were elected by counties or groups of counties.)
Other years of high turnover were in 1999, when term limits resulted in 27 new members — counting Mannix and Democrat Randy Leonard of Portland, who moved from the Senate to the House — and in 2001 with 24 new members, plus Republican Cedric Hayden of Fall Creek, father of the current senator-elect. The elder Hayden had served in the House from 1985 to 1997. The Supreme Court overturned term limits in 2002.
The new Democrats, in addition to Valderrama: Tom Andersen, Salem; Ben Bowman, Tigard; Farrah Chaichi, Aloha; Mark Gamba, Milwaukie; Annessa Hartman, Gladstone; Emerson Levy, Bend; Travis Nelson, Portland (appointee); Daniel Nguyen, Lake Oswego; Hoa Nguyen, Portland; Hai Pham, Hillsboro; Nathan Sosa, Hillsboro (appointee); Thuy Tran, Portland; Jules Walters, West Linn.
Hartman led a Republican for the District 40 seat by 146 votes of more than 31,000 cast. But that margin was above the threshold of 63 required to trigger an automatic recount, pending a complete count of challenged and provisional ballots.
The new Republicans, in addition to Mannix: Charlie Conrad, Dexter; Tracy Cramer, Gervais; Ed Diehl, Stayton; Lucetta Elmer, McMinnville; Christine Goodwin, Roseburg (appointee); Jeff Helfrich, Hood River (2018 appointee who lost general election); James Hieb, Canby (appointee); Cyrus Javadi, Tillamook; Emily McIntire, Eagle Point; Virgle Osborne, Roseburg; Anna Scharf, Amity (appointee); Brian Stout, Columbia City.
Lineups are subject to change pending certification of Nov. 8 results.
Current: 18 Democrats, 11 Republicans, one nonaffiliated.
Incoming: 17 Democrats, 12 Republicans, one nonaffiliated. 21 men (10 from each party plus nonaffiliated), 9 women (7 Democrats, 2 Republicans).
New members: 3 Democrats, 3 Republicans; all but one served in the House. Another Republican, Kim Thatcher of Keizer, was elected to a different seat.
Current: 37 Democrats, 23 Republicans.
Incoming: 35 Democrats, 25 Republicans. 34 men (18 Democrats, 16 Republicans), 26 women (17 Democrats, 9 Republicans).
New members: 14 Democrats, including three appointees from the previous cycle; 13 Republicans, including three appointees. New Republicans include Kevin Mannix of Salem, who has served five previous terms, and Jeff Helfrich of Hood River, who served in 2018 but lost a bid for a full term.
— Peter Wong
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