"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

OR: A decade gone by

One in a series of posts about political changes, or lack thereof, over the last decade around Northwest politics.

In some ways, Oregon Republicans probably would love to have a do-over on this last decade. But what exactly would they do over?

Here is where Oregon was a decade ago in partisan office-holding:

Office Democrats Republicans
U.S. Senate Wyden Smith
U.S. House 4 1
Governor Kitzhaber 0
Statewide ofcs 4 0
St Senate 13 17
St House 25 35
Co Commissioners 28 56


And, after a decade in which all of the statewide seats have turned over and U.S. House seats have been up every two years, here is where it is now:

Office Democrats Republicans
U.S. Senate Wyden, Merkley 0
U.S. House 4 1
Governor Kulongoski 0
Statewide ofcs 4 0
St Senate 18 12
St House 36 24
Co Commissioners 23 49

Only partisan offices are included among the statewides and county commissions here; and there was some shifting among counties in choosing to have partisan or nonpartisan offices, so those comparisons are a bit of apples and oranges.

On the local and rural level, Republicans have held in just fine. And there hasn’t been tremendous change on the urban side, either: A decade ago, Portland and Eugene were Democratic, as was much of central Salem, and they remain so.

The battleground has been the suburban areas. Washington County – Oregon’s second largest county and containing many of its suburban communities – is the mot instructive. A decade ago, nearly all of Washington County was in Senate districts 4, 5 and 13, all which elected Republicans to the Senate, and House districts 3, 5, 8, 9, 24 and 27, which elected four Republicans and two Democrats – countywide, 7-2. In what are roughly today’s counterpart districts (Senate 14, 15, 17, 18 and House 27-30 and 33-36) the total score now is 11-1 for the Democrats. Washington County has been growing, as has its representation, and it has been growing more Democratic at the same time.

That’s the big partisan shift over the last decade, the reason the Oregon Legislature went from solidly Republican a decade ago to solidly Democratic now, why a Democrat only barely elected governor in 2002 won fairly easily despite being heavily outspent in 2006, why Republican Gordon Smith, a strong winner in 2002, was ousted in 2008. Most parts of the state didn’t change their minds about these races. But Washington did, and to a slightly lesser degree Clackamas, the state’s third-largest and also suburban.

There were some smaller-scale shifts, too. Smaller urban centers in Oregon moved Democratic – Salem (Marion County is now majority-Democratic in registration), Medford and even Bend; the central Bend House district now has elected a Democrat to the legislature. These are changes at the edges, though. The larger pattern has fallen more solidly into place with each of the last few elections.

So much for the oughts; what about the teens? Politics does not stay static forever, which means Republicans will recover, sooner or later? But, sooner or later?

An early indication may come as soon as January, when the tax referenda votes come out. They won’t be definitive, but they could provide a sense of how people feel about the ruling Democratic majority – and it is now a majority strong enough to govern unilaterally and to be held accountable for what it does and doesn’t do.

Watch especially the suburbs. What could make the central cities go Republican, or the vast lightly-populated places go Democratic, is hard to imagine. But the suburbs shifted once this decade. They could do it again.

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