The Oregon Legislature will be a very different place in 2019 than it was this year. Voters in state House districts covering Central Oregon, the Hood River area and Jackson County will all elect new state representatives, and in doing so they could change the complexion of the Legislature’s lower chamber.
All four seats are currently in Republican hands: Sal Esquivel represents Jackson County; Mark Johnson represents Hood River and part of Clackamas County; and Knute Buehler hails from Bend. Gene Whisnant, who represents the Sunriver area, hasn’t officially said he isn’t running, but he hasn’t silenced the rumors, either. Together, they have almost 50 years on the job.
So far, only Nathan Boddie, a Bend Democrat, and Kim Wallan, a Medford Republican, have committed to running to replace Buehler and Esquivel, respectively. That’s not unusual. The filing deadline for the May 15, 2018, primary election isn’t until March 16, 2018.
Still, we hope what appears to be a lack of interest is driven more by the calendar than unwillingness to run.
That may be especially true for Republicans, though Democrats and others also have an interest in the makeup of the Oregon House. This legislative session, the Democrats who controlled the House lacked the three-fifths majority needed to push tax measures through without at least a handful of Republicans agreeing to go along with them. That reality helped scotch, among other things, a poorly thought out tax on business sales that ignored such things as a company’s profitability.
It didn’t mean Democrats gave up the fight, however. They devised ways around the constitutionally required supermajority on tax measures, including the neat trick of calling an increase in taxes, or the expansion of an existing tax to new payers, changes to old taxes and therefore perfectly legal. A healthy minority party in the House is key to keeping those sorts of things in check.
Oregonians need good, thoughtful lawmakers these days. Elections also work best with a vigorous debate of policy matters — not an unimpeded waltz to victory. With the problems facing the state, including a growing unfunded liability in the state Public Employees Retirement System and housing shortages, intelligent men and women willing to work together are critical.