Local trends, developments and keys to success arise from vote

Nine things that turned up in Tuesday’s election, which not only produced Democratic majorities in the U.S. Congress and the Oregon House, but some not-so-obvious trends and developments:

Local Democrats make a comeback

Marion County Democrats made a resurgence of sorts.

The election of Brian Clem of Salem in House District 21 raises to three the number of Democrats in the Marion County delegation. He joins Betty Komp of Woodburn, who was re-elected in House District 22.

The longtime Democrat is Senate President Peter Courtney of Salem, who has been in the Legislature for 22 years and was re-elected.

Courtney was the lone Democratic lawmaker in the Mid-Valley between 1999 and 2005. From 1995 to 1999, Salem was represented by three Democrats in the House. Courtney was elected to the Senate, the others did not seek re-election, all the seats went to Republicans, and it stayed that way until Komp was elected in 2004.

A youth movement for Democrats

Jefferson Smith of Portland, the Oregon Bus Project leader who has worked tirelessly to recruit more young people into state politics, was all smiles election night.

Democrats fielded six House candidates younger than 35 in the election after fielding none in 2002 or 2004, Smith said. Five of them won: Clem, Sara Gelser of Corvallis, Tobias Read of Beaverton, Chris Edwards of Eugene and Ben Cannon of Portland. The sixth, Sal Peralta of McMinnville, came within 300 votes of upsetting Republican incumbent Donna Nelson.

Republicans still can claim to the two youngest members of the current House: Billy Dalto of Salem and Derrick Kitts of Hillsboro. But Dalto lost to Clem — by one of the largest margins ever for an incumbent — and Kitts gave up his seat to mount a losing bid for Congress.

A mandate for reform?

Oregonians voted to take big money out of political campaigns by passing Measure 47. It might not turn out that way, because voters also rejected a companion constitutional amendment in Measure 46, which would make some of the limits in Measure 47 possible.

Salem voters unseated Dalto, whose political ethics were questioned after a series of controversies, including putting his mother on his public payroll and failing to report an overseas trip paid by a foundation.

Voters gave a surprising amount of support to Democrats challenging House Speaker Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, and House Majority Leader Wayne Scott, R-Canby, although both held on to their seats. The duo marginalized Democrats in the Oregon House, much like their national counterparts in the U.S. House.

Although both will be back in the 2007 Legislature, and Scott remains the Republican leader, they lost their clout when Democrats won a majority in the House. Rep. Jeff Merkley of Portland, the presumed next House speaker, is a strong advocate of change in government-ethics laws and House procedures.

Democrats do a turnabout

Republican scandals in Congress and the war in Iraq get much of the credit for Democrats’ increased voter turnout Tuesday. But it could be that Democrats learned a lesson from Republicans by putting more resources into targeted groups of voters.

Oregon Democrats concentrated on newly registered voters and voters who tend to vote only in presidential elections. It paid off.

Oregon Democrats turned out 55 percent of their voters through Monday, before the final day of voting, ahead of the 52.7 percent turnout among Republicans. Usually, Republicans get better turnout in midterm elections.

Inroads into suburbia

A former representative from Southern Oregon, Eldon Johnson, said once that without Republicans from the Portland suburbs, “we are no longer the majority party in the House.” His prediction came true Tuesday.

Back in 1990, Republicans won eight seats in the suburbs to Democrats’ four and won control of the House, although the key switches that year were in Southern Oregon. A redrawing of districts after the 1990 Census expanded the suburban total to 15, and Republicans led nine to six after the 1992 election. The GOP’s high-water mark was 10 following the 1996 and 1998 elections.

That ratio was reversed Tuesday, when Democrats won 10 of the 15 seats — and took control of the House.

Republicans complain about how Democratic Secretary of State Bill Bradbury redrew districts after the 2000 census. But their losses started in 2000, when Democrats won eight seats and Republicans seven, the same numbers they had in 2002 after the redrawing. Democrats gained and Republicans lost one in 2004, and again on Tuesday.

So what accounts for the trend? Washington County, where voters have favored Democrats after being reliably Republican. Except for parts of two districts that cross into Clackamas County, all of its House seats are now held by Democrats.

Democrats picked up a Washington County seat vacated by a Republican and ousted Republicans in Eugene, Salem and the central coast.

Disappearing act?

FreedomWorks, the national group led in Oregon by Keizer resident Russ Walker, performed something of a disappearing act after briefly becoming Oregon’s top ballot measure player on the right. The group spearheaded the opposition campaign that overturned a legislatively approved tax increase at the polls in early 2004.

Walker backed away from a proposed 2006 spending limitation, ceding the issue to Measure 48 co-author Don McIntire.

Walker sponsored Measure 40, which required regional election of Oregon’s appellate judges. But campaign-finance reports disclosed that much of the work was carried out by folks associated with Oregonians in Action, the property-rights group that backed a similar measure in 2002.

Walker supposedly took over management of Measure 41, the income-tax cut written by Bill Sizemore. But there was only token funding for the campaign, even though Walker had a national group backing him.

Measures 40, 41 and 48 all were defeated by majorities of 55 percent or more.

Sizemore returns

Sizemore is down but not out.

Once Oregon’s leading ballot measure promoter on the right, Sizemore is hampered by a racketeering judgment of $2.5 million stemming from his past initiative campaigns. Yet he managed to sponsor one measure and write two others that made the 2006 ballot.

His Measure 42 would have barred insurers from using credit ratings when setting customer rates or premiums.

Sizemore found some unlikely allies, including Consumers Union. But as with some of his past initiatives, Sizemore failed to raise money to promote the measure, and a blitz of negative ads by the insurance industry — some aimed at Sizemore — persuaded voters to reject it.

A defeat for limited-government advocates

New York real-estate investor Howie Rich came to the aid of Oregon limited-government forces, bankrolling ballot measures to cap state spending (Measure 48) and reinstate legislative term limits (Measure 45). Voters thumped both proposals by margins that even opponents never imagined.

Voters also soundly rejected the income-tax cut in Measure 41.

In the governor’s race, voters didn’t seem too bothered by Democratic incumbent Ted Kulongoski’s call to raise taxes on cigarettes, corporations and auto insurance.

Republicans: A new bench?

Republicans might have found new ways to develop a bench of future candidates for governor and other statewide offices.

By losing their majority in the House, they also lost a forum where they could develop leaders.

As much maligned as it has been, the Oregon Legislature is still the place where future governors and other statewide officials begin their political careers. Only a handful of top statewide officials in the past half century have had no legislative experience — and Tom McCall, perhaps the best known, covered state government as a television reporter.

But minority-party status is not necessarily a bar to political advancement. Vic Atiyeh was the Senate minority leader when he was elected governor on his second try in 1978. Atiyeh, who served two terms and left office 20 years ago, remains Oregon’s most recent Republican governor.