SALEM — An expected resignation and a surprise appointment will leave northern Deschutes and all of Jefferson county with vacant or lame-duck representation in the Legislature.
Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, a 10-year veteran of the state House, resigned Oct. 28 in expectation of being named to a midlevel position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, who has served 20 years in the Senate, was nominated last month to the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Council. He will have to resign his office to take the job, most likely in early 2018.
Huffman and Ferrioli’s overlapping districts include Sisters and portions of northern Deschutes County, along with Madras and all of Jefferson County.
The departures put in motion the arcane and complex system of replacing lawmakers in the middle of their terms. Huffman and Ferrioli were re-elected in 2016. They will be gone before the 2018 session of the Legislature.
The departure of Huffman, 60, was widely expected — he had said in spring he would not run for re-election regardless of whether or not he received the federal position.
“It has been a great privilege to serve alongside him, learn from him and watch him represent House District 59 with humility and class.” said House Republican Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, in a statement released Wednesday.
The move by Ferrioli, 66, was more of a surprise, although friends have said he had grown tired of being point-man for the Senate minority, where Democrats have a 17-13 edge.
Gov. Kate Brown nominated Ferrioli to the power board in a bipartisan “two-fer” alongside veteran Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin. The Senate Rules Committee is expected to approve the appointments in mid-November.
The power panel is considered a plum job, with a salary of $120,000 — five times the $24,000 state lawmakers make annually. It often is the last stop for veteran government officials covered under the PERS retirement system because the higher salary becomes the basis for figuring annual retirement benefits.
Oregon is one of seven states where county commissioners play the key role of replacing state lawmakers. A seat must go to a member of the party that last held it. For Huffman and Ferrioli, local Republican leaders will submit three to five names to the commissioners in the counties that make up each district. The commissioners will then vote, with the tally weighted by the number of registered voters from the district within each county.
Huffman’s district includes part of Deschutes and Wasco counties, as well as all of Jefferson and Wheeler counties.
On paper, Ferrioli’s replacement seems more complex. The 30th Senate District is geographically the largest in the state, at 36,000 square miles. It includes the northern part of Deschutes County and all of Jefferson County. It also includes parts of Clackamas, Lake, Marion and Wasco counties, and all of Baker, Grant, Harney, Malheur and Wheeler counties. Local party officials and commissioners from those counties will be involved in the process.
Filling the seat may not be as tough as it seems. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, has expressed interest in moving to the Senate.
Although Ferrioli won a four-year term in 2016, his appointed successor will have to defend the seat next year in the Republican primary in May, and if successful, the general election.
The departures of Ferrioli and Huffman should have no effect on Republican representation in the House and Senate, where Democrats need to pick up one seat in each chamber to have a supermajority to pass financial bills requiring a three-fifths vote. Both districts are heavily Republican. Ferrioli’s district gave him 70 percent of the vote in 2016. Huffman received 70 percent of the vote last year.
Huffman’s district has a history of appointed replacements. Huffman was named to the seat in 2007 when Rep. John Dallum, R-The Dalles, resigned to become a school superintendent in Montana. Dallum was appointed to the seat in 2004.
During the 2017 session of the Legislature, Huffman was the sponsor of a successful bill to allow the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council, which operates Cascades East Transit, to ask regional voters to apply tax money to bus service.
The council that Ferrioli will join is funded by the Bonneville Power Administration to plan power production and wildlife management for areas in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.
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