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Pamplin Media Group – Oregon Senate uncertain, House likely Democratic

Parties spend millions for positions that pay $33,000, plus daily allowances. But majorities set agendas.

Millions are being raised and spent by Democrats and Republicans for control of the Oregon Legislature, whose members are paid an annual salary of just under $33,000.

Some candidates for the Senate have raised $2 million, and even $1 million is not unusual.

The salary is not the point. The party that has the majority elects the House speaker and Senate president, who appoint the members and leaders of committees — where the Legislature does most of its work — and assign the bills and decide what moves and what does not. The most recent coalition of the parties was 50 years ago.

Though most of the key races are outside or on the edges of the Portland metropolitan area, there are local contests that bear watching.

A key metro area race is between Republican incumbent Bill Kennemer and Democratic Rep. Mark Meek in Senate District 20, mostly in Clackamas County but extending into Marion County. Each candidate has raised $2 million.

Kennemer was first elected to the Senate in 1986, and then to the Clackamas County board in 1996. After 12 years as a county commissioner, Kennemer then won in 2008 for the Oregon House, where he served until 2018. He had been out of office just two years when he was appointed to succeed Alan Olsen, who moved out of state midway through a third term. Meek is a three-term state representative.

District registration favors Democrats — 33.8% to Republicans 23.5%, and nonaffiliated 35.5% — but Kennemer has prevailed in the past.

Unlike other states, Oregon still has a part-time Legislature, though voters approved a move to limited annual sessions in 2010. Some Democratic legislators sought to raise their pay, but it never came to a vote and at least three legislators declined to seek re-election on that basis.

In addition to their annual salaries, which are automatically adjusted, members get expense allowances of $151 for each day of a session — 160 days in odd-numbered years, 35 days in even-numbered years, and during designated committee meetings between sessions. Allowances are also paid for special sessions. The per-diem amount is set according to federal Internal Revenue Service guidelines, so it fluctuates.

The chambers

In the Senate, minority Republicans hope to win a majority — or at least force a tie — in a chamber that Democrats now control, 18-12. Democrats forced a 15-15 tie with Republicans in 2002, for only the second time in Oregon history. Since 2004, they have not looked back, although Democrats held one-seat majorities after the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Republicans have raised $2.75 million for the Senate Leadership Fund, compared with $2.5 million in the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund.

Sixteen of the 30 seats are up for election. One is for a two-year unexpired term, and the winner there will be up again for election in 2024. Thirteen are held by Democrats, and just three by Republicans. The others, including one independent who left the Republican caucus, are in the middle of their four-year terms.

In the House, Republicans hope to make gains in a chamber that Democrats now control, 37-23.

Republicans are unlikely to win an outright majority. They would have to flip a net total of eight seats, although they managed to gain six in 2010 to force a first-ever 30-30 tie in the House. But they can gain the two seats for them to deny Democrats a super-majority of 60% (36 seats) required for passage of revenue-raising measures.

Republican legislative campaign efforts have been bolstered by the Bring Balance to Salem political action committee (PAC) launched with the help of Greg Walden, a former Oregon House majority leader who went on to 22 years in the U.S. House until he retired at the end of 2020. It has raised $4 million — $2 million of it from Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who also has given millions to two candidates for governor — and matched the $4 million raised by Future PAC, the House Democratic campaign committee.

The outlook

The Senate will have at least six new members, excluding what may happen in the elections.

The House will have at least 20 new members. Democrats have 24 incumbents running and 13 open seats. Republicans have 15 incumbents running and seven open seats. Six incumbents now running from both parties were appointed initially, so when the new session starts Jan. 9, nearly half the House will be newly elected or beginning their first long session.

But excluding defeats of incumbents, the new House will be a little short of the record 28 members following the 1972 election, when Oregon converted to single-member districts. In Oregon’s term-limits era, the House had 25 new members (and two more with previous legislative service) in 1999, and 24 new members (and one more with previous service) in 2001.

Key Senate and House races, other than Senate District 20, are summarized below. Registration figures are as of the start of October; registration closed Oct. 18. In almost all districts, voters affiliated with no political party (NA) outnumber registered Democrats and Republicans.


District 3

(Medford, Ashland): Democrats, 33.4%; Republicans, 25.9%; NA, 33.7%.

Democrat Jeff Golden of Ashland, a former Jackson County commissioner elected to an open seat in 2018, faces a well-funded Republican challenge by Medford Mayor Randy Sparacino, also a former police chief. The southern part of this district is represented in the Oregon House by a Democrat; the northern part, mostly Medford, is represented by a Republican. Golden has raised about $200,000; Sparacino, $1.1 million.

District 10

(South and West Salem): Democrats, 32.6%; Republicans, 25.1%; NA, 35.5%.

Democrat Deb Patterson of Salem unseated an appointed incumbent, by 576 votes of almost 75,000 cast between them, to win the two years remaining in the term of Republican Jackie Winters, who died in May 2019. She has raised $1.5 million, but her Republican opponent is Rep. Raquel Moore-Green of Salem, who has raised $2 million.

District 11

(North and East Salem; Keizer): Democrats, 28.5%; Republicans, 23%; NA, 42.1%.

Democrat Peter Courtney of Salem, the longest serving member, is retiring after 24 years in the Senate (a record 20 as its president) and 14 years in the House. Two-term Republican Sen. Kim Thatcher of Keizer was drawn out of District 13, but she is running against Democrat Richard Walsh, a lawyer and former Keizer city councilor. (Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson had been the Democratic nominee but withdrew after the primary.) Thatcher has raised $1.2 million, Walsh around $800,000. Note: This district has the lowest total of registered voters (80,872) among any of the 30 Senate districts. Most are closer to 100,000.

District 15

(Hillsboro, Cornelius, Forest Grove): Democrats, 33.5%; Republicans, 20%; NA, 40.4%.

On paper, this should be a mismatch for Democrat Janeen Sollman of Hillsboro, a three-term state representative appointed to succeed Chuck Riley when he retired with one year left in his term. But Republican Carolina Malmedal of Hillsboro, owner of a plumbing business, has raised $1 million.

A few other notable Senate contests:

District 6

(Parts of Lane, Linn and Marion counties): Democrats, 24.4%; Republicans, 34.3%; NA, 34.3%.

This seat is being vacated by Democrat Lee Beyer of Springfield after 12 years, but it was redrawn to favor a Republican and is largely rural. Four-term Rep. Cedric Hayden of Fall Creek — a dentist like his father, also a former representative — is favored to win easily.

District 13

(Parts of Clackamas, Washington and Yamhill counties, including Wilsonville): Democrats, 36.5%; Republicans, 23.2%; NA, 33.6%.

With incumbent Kim Thatcher of Keizer ineligible to run in this redrawn district, Democrat Aaron Woods of Wilsonville, a retired information technology executive, is favored to win over Republican John Velez of Sherwood, a real estate broker.

District 16

(Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook counties; parts of Washington and Yamhill counties): Democrats, 30.1%, Republicans, 27.5%; NA, 35.5%.

Democrat Betsy Johnson of Scappoose resigned this seat Dec. 15 to mount an unaffiliated candidacy for governor. The interim appointee isn’t running, and one-term Republican Rep. Suzanne Weber, a former mayor of Tillamook, is favored to win over Democrat Melissa Busch of Warren, a nurse.

District 18

> (Part of Washington County): Democrats, 36.3%; Republicans, 18.1%; NA, 39.1%.

This district was shifted entirely into Washington County, so the Democratic interim appointee, Akasha Lawrence-Spence of Portland, was ineligible to run. One-term Democratic Rep. Wlnsvey Campos of Aloha is favored to win over Republican Kimberly Rice of Hillsboro for the two years remaining in the seat vacated last year by the resignation of Ginny Burdick of Portland.

District 26

(Hood River and Wasco counties; parts of Multnomah and Clackamas counties): Democrats, 29.1%; Republicans, 30%; NA, 34%.

This seat is being vacated by Republican Chuck Thomsen of Hood River after 12 years. His likely successor is Republican Rep. Daniel Bonham of The Dalles, who was initially appointed in 2017.


District 31

(Columbia County; parts of Multnomah, Washington and Yamhill counties): Democrats, 28.9%; Republicans, 29.1%; NA, 35.1%.

This seat was vacated by nine-term Democratic Rep. Brad Witt, who moved from Clatskanie to run in a Salem area district but lost in the primary. The candidates are Democrat Anthony Sorace of Scappoose, a self-employed systems and software engineer, and Republican Brian Stout of Columbia City, a small-business owner. Columbia County favored Republican Donald Trump for president in 2016 and 2020.

District 39

(Part of Clackamas County): Democrats, 33%; Republicans, 22.3%; NA, 38%.

Republicans think they can finally unseat three-term Democratic Rep. Janelle Bynum of Happy Valley, a small-business owner, with Kori Haynes of Clackamas, a small-business owner. Redistricting put Bynum in a district entirely within Clackamas County, instead of splitting it with Multnomah County.

District 19

(South Salem): Democrats, 32.3%; Republicans, 23.8%; NA, 37.3%.

With Republican incumbent Raquel Moore-Green running for the Senate, this contest is between two former Salem city councilors: Democrat Tom Andersen and Republican T.J. Sullivan.

District 21

(Central and East Salem): Democrats, 29.1%; Republicans, 25.4%; NA, 38.8%.

When 15-year Democratic incumbent Brian Clem resigned last year, Chris Hoy was appointed to the seat, but did not seek a full term and was elected mayor of Salem in the primary. Democrat Ramiro Navarro Jr. faces Republican Kevin Mannix, a lawyer who was first elected to the seat as a Democrat in 1988 and served four terms before losing a bid for attorney general in 1996. Mannix switched parties in 1997, was elected as a Republican to the seat in 1998, and lost again for attorney general in 2000. He was the Republican nominee for governor in 2002. He also ran for governor in 2006 and for the 5th District seat in the U.S. House in 2008.

District 52

(Hood River County; parts of Multnomah, Clackamas and Wasco counties): Democrats, 32.1%; Republicans, 25.7%; NA, 35.4%.

Democrat Anna Williams beat Republican Jeff Helfrich, both of Hood River, by just 84 votes in 2020. Williams declined to seek a third term and resigned early. Helfrich — a former Portland police officer who held the seat briefly after the Republican incumbent resigned in 2017, but lost to Williams in 2018 — is running again. His Democratic opponent is Darcy Long of The Dalles, a financial adviser.

District 53

(Deschutes County): Democrats, 31.4%; Republicans, 28.6%; NA, 32.2%.

Republican Jack Zika of Redmond did not seek re-election after he was drawn out of the seat. The candidates are Democrat Emerson Levy, a lawyer, and Republican Michael Sipe, a business consultant, both of Bend.

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