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Baseline 08: Oregon Legislature

Oregon statehouse

Oregon statehouse

Or Oregon Legislative Assembly, if you prefer, in the second of four lists for the end of the year, of what now look like some of the most noteworthy and watchable political contests to come: Three lists covering the legislatures of Idaho, Oregon and Washington, then one covering major offices for the three states, with 10 races each. The numbering logic in similar for all: These are the contests which, from this viewpoint, seem to have the most significance or analytical interest as we look to where Northwest politics goes from here. It isn’t a list of which seats will change parties (though we think there’s a good shot some of them will) or which incumbents are most endangered (among other things, some of these are open seats). Rather: Which contests stand to say the most about local and Northwest politics?

There’s little chance, to be sure, that Republicans will be able to retake the Senate in 08, and odds are less than even (though closer than remote) for a recapture of the House. But the House margins are still close, and every one of those 60 contests will have some significance. And, as is often so, some of these races tell us something apart from what the partisan balance will be: They tell us something about how people see their community and their state.

One other highly cautionary note: Candidate filing is open until March 11. Surprises in personnel doubtless will continue to unfold. (Consider, for example, the recent presumed legislature departure of Brian Boquist from the House, except that he then opted into a race for the Senate, for a seat he likely will win.)

(The list is below the fold.)

1 House 49: Incumbent, Karen Minnis, R-Fairview. This lonely Republican Multnomah seat has remained so over the last decade partly because of the couple who held it, husband and wife team John and (at present) Karen Minnis, who a year ago was speaker of the House. And yet she got a scare in 2004 and was pressed so hard in 2006 she had to spend more than a million dollars to hold this state House seat, and then by not much (52.2%). This east-of-Portland suburban area seems to be trending the way of nearly all other Portland suburbs, and Democrats have fair reason to think they can take this seat in 08, and two filed: Nick Kahl, a Lewis & Clark teacher assistant, and real estate broker Barbara Kyle. Republicans are not giving up without a battle, though, and have an apparently strong candidate in school board member John Nelsen. Could be that for the third election in a row, this will be the marquee House race in Oregon.

2 House 6: Incumbent, Sal Esquivel, R-Medford. In some ways an unlikely add to this list; Esquivel has been around a while and hasn’t aroused any particular animus; Democrats would much rather do in, say, neighboring Representative Dennis Richardson. But Richardson would be a hard get, and the ground under Esquivel’s district – the local Medford area – may be subtly changing. That isn’t just guesswork: Esquivel (who isn’t among the House members who have yet filed for re-election) was held to 51.9% last year.

3 House 11A: Incumbent, John Huffman, R-The Dalles. Suppress the gag reflex for a moment before dismissing this, and consider a few items. 1. It is true that 59 has been a solidly Republican area for a long time, and includes some of Oregon’s most solidly Republican counties (e.g., Grant, Jefferson, Wheeler, etc.). However, the biggest chunk of population is in Wasco, and The Dalles shows clear signs of following in Hood River’s footsteps – leftward. 2. In 06, likable Republican incumbent John Dallum, who’d done nothing (that we’re aware of) to upset his district, won with just 50.6% over Democrat Jim Gilbertson, a result that should have gotten more statewide attention than it did. 3. Dallum has resigned and been replaced by Huffman, who will have to restart the sales process. This is worth a watch.

4 House 60: Incumbent, Tom Butler, R-Ontario. Not an incumbent for long: He is resigning, and will be replaced soon. This is on the list not because of any question of partisan leaning – there’s no evidence to suggest it won’t remain solidly Republican – but the primary in such a geographically massive district could be fascinating.

5 House 30: Incumbent, David Edwards, D-Hillsboro. Republicans have been losing ground steadily in Washington County for a dozen years and counting; Edwards’ seat would seem to be a logical place to launch a counteroffensive. it is on the edge of Democratic territory – still very much no man’s land – and Edward’s initial win (last year) was hard fought, with some bitter residue. This territory is the rural area north of central Hillsboro, out toward the Sunset Highway; this ain’t the Beaverton suburbs. Another rough contest here is not hard to imagine.

6 House 39: Incumbent, Wayne Scott, R-Canby. Any effort to oust Scott would have likely fallen into the long-shot category (we thought last year’s effort might come closer than it ultimately did). But Scott is retiring, and in this district – its senator is the almost-impregnable Democrat Kurt Schrader – there’s been some rising Democratic undercurrent. Maybe more than the more spotlighted 49, this may be the Democrats’ best 08 pickup opportunity.

7 House 38: Incumbent, Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego. Flip side of the Wayne Scott story, almost. When Macpherson first won this LO-centric district, Democrats simply weren’t supposed to win there, and his family background may have helped matters along. Now he’d be very tough to take out. But he’s leaving to run for attorney general, raising the issue: Will the lake town, much changed from even a decade ago, support a new Republican? Both parties may want to be very careful who they nominate here.

8 Senate 23: Incumbent, Avel Gordly, I-Portland. Look as we might, serious partisan-contested Oregon Senate seats look scarce this cycle. And this isn’t one. Though Gordly is an I at present, that doesn’t change matters. She was last elected as a Democrat (and still mostly votes with Democrats), is retiring in 08, and her replacement almost certainly will be a Democrat; Democrats run here about as Republicans do in Preston, Idaho. What’s of note here is the primary campaign ahead. The frontrunner would seem to be Representative Jackie Dingfelder; but Gordly’s chief staffer, Sean Cruz, is a highly energetic and passionate candidate and also well connected. (Both of them have filed for the office.) This will be a real clash of styles and even of world views, albeit that both are relatively liberal Portland Democrats.

9 House 24: Incumbent, Donna Nelson, R-McMinnville. And we can’t even say definitively that she’s out, though she appears to be. The open seat aspect makes this of some interest, but so does her slim win last time (48.9%) and some shifting ground in Yamhill County. Ed Glad and Jim Weidner are the two Republicans who have filed so far, and another is probably entering soon. No Democrats yet. But writing from a home-turf perspective: Keep this on your dark horse list.

10 Senate 27: Incumbent, Ben Westlund, D-Tumalo. The progression looks pretty likely here. Westlund, last elected in 2004 as a Republican, turned Independent, then Democratic, which he now is, and now is filing to run for state treasurer. (The race for this seat would have been a real watcher had he tried to keep it.) All indicators are that this should be an easy Republican pickup, or in a sense, retention from the last election. Republican Chris Telfer, a member of the Bend City Council, looks to have the inside track and is the sole candidate who has filed so far. And yet . . . we’re hesitant to write it off entirely, what with some political ferment in Bend (yes, there is some) and whatever influence may have rubbed off from Westlund. This may be a snoozer, but there’s an outside chance it might be more than that.

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  1. Jenni Simonis Jenni Simonis December 29, 2007

    Karen Minnis is in HD 49.

  2. Charlie Foxtrot Charlie Foxtrot January 3, 2008

    In Central Oregon Judy Steigler (D) would seem to have a better shot at picking up a Republican seat from Chuck Burley in as much as that district is primarily Bend and Westlund’s Senate district includes a lot of outlying rural area. No credible Dem cvandidate appears to be on the horizon. However, Burley will be tough to beat simply because he doesn’t seem to have made many people mad at him and the Bulletin keeps running frequent laudatory articles.

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