SALEM — As the calendar flips to 2019, we sweep up a few odds and ends in last-minute state political and government news to go along with the New Year’s confetti:

Zika settling in

Newly elected Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, is getting prepared to take over as representative of House District 53 on Jan. 14, when he and other new state lawmakers will be sworn into office. Zika has been assigned Room 387 in the House wing as his office in the Capitol. Zika, a real estate agent, has hired Jihun Han as his chief of staff. Han is the former political affairs director for the Oregon Association of Realtors. While with the Realtors’ group, Han worked on legislative initiatives including first-time homebuyer accounts, mortgage interest tax deductions and other property rights issues. According to Zika, Han received a bachelor’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism and political science from Syracuse University in New York. Zika said he plans to decorate his office with a framed poster of Redmond that outgoing Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, gave him. Zika also will display an American flag his family received for his grandfather’s service in World War II.

Richardson looking ahead to 2020

Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson is planning his 2020 re-election campaign despite a battle with brain cancer that has kept him away from some of his official duties at the Capitol.

Since Richardson revealed his diagnosis in June, there has been speculation around Salem about whether he would run for a second four-year term. But the state’s only Republican statewide officeholder is telling supporters he is all in for 2020. A fundraising letter, first reported by veteran Salem reporter Dick Hughes, quotes Richardson as saying he won’t let cancer stop his political efforts.

“Those who opposed our campaign in 2016 are gearing up to try to take back the office of Secretary of State in 2020, and we can’t let that happen. … As you may have read in the media, I continue to serve through all my health issues, and I am prepared to keep serving in office. I am organizing my team for 2020 and the campaign to hold the Secretary of State’s office for four more years of good governance starts now.”

Richardson expressed admiration for the get-out-the-vote effort of Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, in the 2018 election. Richardson noted his 2016 campaign knocked on 100,000 doors that year, while Brown supporters knocked on 400,000 doors.

“If we’re going to be competitive in holding this office and providing the only balance between Republicans and Democrats in 2020, then we need to start building our ground teams across Oregon now.”

Richardson has just under $33,000 in his campaign fund.

Cigarette sales hit new low

The Oregon Health Authority reports that 33.84 packs of cigarettes were sold per capita between November 2017 and November 2018. The numbers, first reported by Willamette Week on Monday, are an 11.5 percent drop from the previous year. Increased information about health risks, along with steeply rising taxes, have dropped per-capita cigarette usage in Oregon from 98.7 packs per year in 1993. It’s not all good news, however. The statistics don’t reflect the number of smokers who have switched to vaping or using Juul devices, both of which contain nicotine. Also, for the first decade of the 21st century, Oregon’s cigarette usage was well below the U.S. average. But in recent years, the per-capita difference has closed to about a pack a day. In her new state budget plan, Brown has proposed a $2-a-pack hike in cigarette taxes.

Digging into Deschutes political numbers

Statewide, 2018 was a big year for Democrats, electing Brown as governor and winning supermajorities in the state House and Senate. The story wasn’t so sunny for them in Deschutes County, where Republicans swept the legislative seats and the two County Commission seats that were open, and voted for Bend resident Knute Buehler for governor over Brown.

Still, there was good news for local Democrats. U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, was re-elected but lost Deschutes County for the first time in 11 elections, finishing second to Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner. According to the Deschutes County Clerk’s Office, Democrats started the year as the second-largest group of voters in the county but finished in third place. Yet, even that is good news. The county as of Nov. 30 has 135,861 total registered voters, adding 5,641 since the same date in 2017. The biggest group remains Republicans, at 41,998 voters — up 597 from a year before. Democrats nearly tripled that number, adding 1,577 voters for a total of 40,937 voters.

But both parties were swamped in growth by nonaffiliated voters, whose numbers grew by 3,324 to a total of 41,913, passing the total number of Democrats and pulling into second place behind the GOP. The remaining new voters registered with minor parties. Political analysts, including University of Pacific political science professor Jim Moore, have said the rise in nonaffiliated voters in Deschutes County and the rest of the state is due to the 2016 “motor voter” law. It automatically registers motorists to vote when they obtain or renew their drivers licenses but doesn’t require them to pick a political party. Those who don’t are categorized as nonaffiliated voters.

Whatever the reason, the Deschutes County electorate moves toward the 2020 election roughly divided into equal thirds among Republicans, nonaffiliated and Democrats.

— Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin.com

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