Republican faces battle within party to keep his seat

Incumbent legislators usually worry face their true battles to keep their seats in the general election, when they face a challenger from the other party.

But Keizer Republican Vic Backlund, who has been politically invincible to the Democrats since he won election to the Oregon House six years ago, now faces the stiffest challenge of his political career — from fellow Republicans.

Angered by Backlund’s support for tax increases and state school testing, Keizer businesswoman Kim Thatcher is challenging him in the Republican primary for House District 25, which covers Keizer and Newberg.

The Backlund-Thatcher race is being watched closely around the state. It’s one of a handful of attempts by conservative Republicans to oust one of their moderate colleagues for straying too far from their positions.

Bracing for a bruising battle in the May 18 primary, Backlund has hired prominent Republican political consultant Paul Phillips to advise him.

Thatcher’s backers are “anti-government folks that want to make an example of somebody,” Phillips said. “That will make it an interesting primary, but I believe he will prevail. Citizens for a Sound Economy is going to be isolated as an attack-dog group.”

Backlund said he supported other Republican plans last year to balance the 2003-05 budget with lower taxes, but none had majority support to pass.

“By the time we got to August, there was no plan to balance the budget,” Backlund said. “So we needed a compromise plan.”

He supported a $1.2 billion tax package later overturned by voters in the form of Measure 30.

As chairman of the House Education Committee, Backlund was instrumental in reworking provisions of the state’s much-maligned Certificate of Initial Mastery. The CIM is the centerpiece of Oregon’s landmark 1991 school reform act.

Backlund engineered a compromise that winnowed the number of tests to earn the CIM and delayed requirements for schools to issue the Certificate of Advanced Mastery, or CAM.

Thatcher’s criticism of Backlund’s tax and school-reform positions is central to her campaign. Her chief backers are Russ Walker, state director of Citizens for a Sound Economy, who spearheaded the campaign against the Measure 30 tax package earlier this year, and Rob Kremer, former state schools superintendent candidate, both proven campaign fund-raisers. Her campaign manager ran Kremer’s surprisingly strong bid for state school superintendent in 2002.

She praised Backlund, her local representative, for helping her with two matters relating to state agencies and her business but decided to run against him after volunteering on the anti-Measure 30 campaign.

“I just don’t think he’s in touch with the voters of this district,” she said. “It seems he’s more liberal than conservative.”

Backlund countered that he has the support of traditional Republican business and natural-resources lobbies.

“Look at my entire record,” he said. “That’s all I ask.”


Information from: Statesman Journal,