Scramble on for Central Oregon House seat

Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte has been appointed as a judge.(Bulletin file photo)

SALEM — Republicans are starting to jockey for the House seat soon to be vacated by longtime Republican leader Mike McLane of Powell Butte.

Gov. Kate Brown’s announcement last week that she wanted to put a longtime political nemesis on the circuit court for Crook and Jefferson counties caught nearly every political leader in Oregon by surprise.

“This all came on rather quickly, and it will take a little while for the dust to settle to see who is interested in running,” said Paul deWitt, chairman of the Deschutes County Republican Party.

The eventual appointee to the House District 55 seat will have an immediate leg up on any competition — running in 2020 as an incumbent without having ever faced the electorate.

Under law, McLane’s replacement has to be from the same party — the Republican Party.

The district has voted solidly Republican, with McLane winning nearly 70% of the vote or more in his five races for the seat. McLane said he believes voters will continue to vote Republican and hopes the appointee plans on holding onto the seat for awhile.

“Whomever takes the appointment should want to run and win in their own right in 2020,” McLane said. “At least I sure hope they would.”

McLane said he did not know who would seek the appointment, but said possible candidates could include Crook County Judge Seth Crawford, Deschutes County Commissioner Tony DeBone of La Pine and Realtor Vikki Breese-Iverson of Prineville. Crook County Parks & Recreation District board member Jason Carr has also been mentioned by local Republicans.

Much of the sprawling district is rural, including Crater Lake National Park. Prineville in Crook County and La Pine in Deschutes County are two of the few population centers in District 55.

For McLane’s replacement, deWitt said he’s “not a litmus test guy,” but hoped for someone who, like McLane, would stand up and stand out as a counterforce to the large Democratic majorities in the Legislature.

“I’ll be looking for someone who can build name recognition while having good, conservative Republican principles,” deWitt said. “Do what you can given the majority the Democrats have. Work with them when you can or should — but hold to your principles on tax and spend measures.”

The process for picking McLane’s replacement is in a kind of political suspended animation. Everybody knows McLane is leaving — just not yet.

The deadline for filling McLane’s seat is 30 days after his resignation — which won’t officially happen for at least a couple weeks or more.

The odd circumstances were a compromise between Brown and McLane. Judge Daniel J. Ahern had announced in March that he would retire after 22 years on the bench. Brown set a deadline for when she wanted to fill his spot on the 22nd Judicial District Circuit Court, based in Prineville.

Brown asked McLane for an answer by Memorial Day weekend. He accepted, but with a caveat.

“I want to represent my district until the end of the session,” McLane said.

The Oregon Constitution says the Legislature’s 2019 session must end before July 1. But legislative leaders have said they are aiming to depart June 21 — and there have been rumblings this week about wrapping things up even earlier.

After the final gavel falls, McLane will officially resign from the Legislature, and the 30-day clock to fill his seat will begin to tick.

“Once Rep. McLane submits his resignation, the Secretary of State’s Elections Division will notify the Republican Party of the vacancy,” said Tayleranne Gillespie, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Bev Clarno.

Republican Party leaders in District 55 will submit three to five names to the secretary of state. Commissioners from counties within the district make the final choice from the short list. The district includes parts of Crook, Deschutes, Jackson, Klamath and Lake counties.

The secretary of state will set a date for a vote at a location within the district. At the meeting, a complex system of voting is used. Each county gets one vote for every 1,000 registered voters that live within the district. Each county then divides its total votes by the number of commissioners in its county.

Each commissioner then casts votes for candidates, with rounds continuing until one candidate receives more than 50% of the votes. The appointee will fill out the remaining portion of McLane’s current two-year term. If the appointee wants to continue in office, he or she must run in the 2020 primary and general elections.

Candidates, including incumbents, can’t officially file to run before Sept. 12. But political campaign finance committees can be created earlier. As of Tuesday afternoon, the secretary of state’s campaign finance website showed no committees yet created for the race.

McLane lives in Powell Butte, in Crook County, about nine miles east of Redmond and 25 miles northeast of Bend. He is a partner in the Bend law firm of Lynch Conger McLane, a position he will relinquish prior to going on the bench. The loss of his private legal income will be offset by the $140,776-per-year salary as a circuit judge. Legislators received a $31,200 base salary for the job, which is considered part time.

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

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