SALEM — It’s just the first week of the first month of the year, but Oregon politics never takes a day off. A tidal wave of money continues to flow into the campaign for governor, while voters have only three weeks until they will be asked to cast their first election-year votes.
Democrats want to hold on to their “trifecta” — controlling the state House, Senate and governor’s office. They argue political unity is a bulwark against the trifecta in Washington, D.C., where Republicans hold the House, Senate and White House. The state GOP wants to win the governorship and deny Democrats a supermajority in the Legislature that would allow for financial bills, including taxes, to pass without Republican support.
Some of the news from No. 1 of what promises to be a very busy 52 weeks in Oregon politics:
Millions more for governor’s race
Preliminary figures show the two front-runners in the 2018 race for governor have raised more than $6.4 million through the end of 2017, putting them on pace to shatter the record for the all-time most expensive race for statewide office.
With a little more than 10 months to go before the Nov. 6 general election, Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, has so far outraised and outspent Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, the Republican front-runner.
As 2018 opens, Brown reports $2.6 million cash on hand, while Buehler has $1.6 million.
Brown has raised $4 million for the race, including funds left over from her 2016 special-election victory. Through Friday, she had raised $2.8 million in 2017.
Buehler has raised $2.3 million, including funds from 2016. Through Saturday, he raised $2.2 million in 2017.
Brown has outspent Buehler by about 2-to-1 in the early stages of the campaign, reporting $1.4 million in expenditures to $693,000 for Buehler.
The state office spending record was set in 2010 when Democrat John Kitzhaber and Republican Chris Dudley burned through $17.7 million in the race for governor narrowly won by Kitzhaber. Brown and Buehler are on an especially early trajectory to beat the record. In January 2010, neither Kitzhaber nor Dudley had even declared they were running.
No Republican has won the governorship since the late Gov. Vic Atiyeh won re-election in 1982. To use his millions to try to reverse history, Buehler must first win the May 15 Republican primary.
Election year begins early
It’s just the first month of 2018, but the first key election is already looming. Voters’ pamphlets for the Oregon special election on Jan. 23 are arriving at homes around the state. The only item on the ballot is Measure 101. Last year, the Legislature approve House Bill 2391, which called for “assessments” (opponents call them taxes) on insurance companies and managed care organizations, while amending existing assessments on hospitals.
Supporters, which included a few Republicans, said the bill was necessary to raise about $550 million to fund Medicaid programs for the needy. A group of opponents, led by Republican lawmakers, launched a signature-gathering campaign to refer much of the bill to voters. They argued that the bill unfairly targeted certain taxpayers, including college students.
While the Legislature was still in session, the Democratic-controlled House and Senate passed legislation mandating that if opponents gathered enough signatures for a referendum, it would be held in January. Opponents submitted more than 84,000 signatures — well above the number needed to put the issue up for a vote. Though the text of Measure 101 takes up less than half a page, the voters’ pamphlet has 19 pages of arguments in favor and 12 pages of arguments in opposition.
Senate replacement vote
Commissioners of 10 Central and Eastern Oregon counties will be represented at a meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday at Grant County Regional Airport in John Day. They will officially vote on the replacement for Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, the former Senate Minority Leader who resigned to take a seat on the regional power board.
According to state law, the seat must go to a candidate of the same party, in Ferrioli’s case, a Republican. The new lawmaker for Senate District 30 will be chosen from three candidates recommended by local Republican leaders in the region. The candidates are Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, Dr. Eric Wattenburg, a Sisters resident, and Suzan Ellis Jones, of Bridgeport in Baker County. The votes will be weighted under a formula from the Secretary of State that takes into account the number of registered voters each county has within District 30.
If Bentz is chosen, his House seat will become vacant and have to be filled under the same process. In the state House, Bentz represents the eastern portion of Ferrioli’s Senate district.
No Knute candidates
It’s been almost five months since Buehler announced he would run for governor and therefore give up his 54th House District seat. But Nathan Boddie, a Democrat and Bend city councilor, who filed to run Oct. 2, remains the only official candidate for the seat. Though Democrats have a voter-registration edge over Republicans in the district, the large number of nonaffiliated voters have kept the seat in Republican hands for the past four elections.
State Democratic leaders have said the seat is a key target in their efforts to build a supermajority in the House. House Republican leaders have promised a major effort to hold onto the seat, but so far that campaign is without a public face.
In comparison, two Redmond residents — Republican Jack Zika and Democrat Bill Trumble — have jumped into the race in the neighboring 53rd District, where Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, recently announced he would not seek re-election. Candidates have until March 6 to file for the state primaries on May 15.
Not a Top 10
Oregon’s race for governor is not among “The Top 10 Governor’s Races,” according to Politico, the major Washington D.C.-based national politics website. Only one of the 10 races is a seat held by a Democrat: Connecticut. The others feature a Republican incumbent seeking re-election (Illinois, Maryland), a Republican leaving office (New Mexico, Maine, Nevada, Florida, Michigan, Ohio) and an independent conservative (Alaska). Nationwide, there are 33 Republican governors, 16 Democrats and one independent.
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