Taxes expected to talk as November nears

Taxpayers’ money, a key issue in many Oregon primary races this spring, is likely to play a prominent role again in many legislative campaigns in the general election in November.

So, too, might political money.

With Tuesday’s preliminaries out of the way, lawmakers and lobbyists see the fall fight for the Legislature shaping up this way: Democrats stand a good chance to pick up one to three seats in the Senate and break their 15-15 tie with Republicans. Republicans could lose a seat or two from their 35-25 edge in the House but are not in danger of losing their majority. Both parties will spend heavily on several tight, high-profile races as they try to defend what they have and make inroads where they can.

No matter how the party numbers end up, the 2005 Legislature will have to figure out how to balance the next two-year budget — in all likelihood without new taxes.

Senate Democratic Leader Kate Brown, D-Portland, is confident her party can gain full control of the chamber for the first time since 1993.

“We’re going to have a Republican-controlled House and a Democrat-controlled Senate,” she said, “and we’re going to have to get our act together and figure out how to balance Oregon’s budget in a bipartisan manner.”

Russ Walker of Citizens for a Sound Economy, which led a voter defeat of a tax plan passed by the 2003 Legislature, is among those unwilling to concede a Senate advantage to the Democrats.

“It is going to be more difficult than they think,” he said. “They have staked out positions for higher taxes.”

In the fall, Walker said, Democrats who supported the tax increase will face a broader voter audience, one that includes moderates and independents who “sided with us” on the tax debate.

Three shots for seats

Democrats see their best chance in three open seats that have been in Republican hands.

Rep. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, will face Ron Sunseri, a former Republican House member, in Senate District 25. John Minnis, a Republican veteran, resigned the seat early this year to take a state job.

In Southern Oregon, Rep. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, and Republican Jim Wright are vying for Senate District 3. The seat belonged to longtime Republican Sen. Lenn Hannon, who also resigned to work for the state.

On the south-central coast, Rep. Joanne Verger, D-Coos Bay, and Republican Al Pearn are running for the Senate District 5 seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Ken Messerle.

That’s where the money is expected to be spent.

The District 3 and District 25 races “could be the highest-spending, with each reaching $1.5 million,” said Lynn Lundquist, the former House speaker who heads the Oregon Business Council.

The 2002 race between Charlie Ringo and Bill Witt for Senate District 17 was the highest-spending in Oregon legislative history at slightly more than $1 million.

Competition in the House is harder to predict, but it’s generally thought that the best the Democrats can hope for is an added seat or two.

House districts open

Among the House seats attracting interest is District 35 in the Tigard area. Republican Rep. Max Williams, a moderate, resigned to head the state Corrections Department. Suzanne Gallagher, a social conservative, won the Republican primary and will face Democrat Larry Galizio.

Democrats might target Gallagher as too conservative for the district, but she will get strong backing from groups such as Oregon Right to Life, said Gayle Atteberry, the organization’s executive director. Gallagher’s victory Tuesday “was a big win for us,” she said.

Resignations by a number of moderate Republicans and Tuesday’s results “clearly show that the Republicans will continue to remain in control,” Lundquist said. “I do think they will have a caucus with a more conservative bent than they have had before.”

Given voter rejection of a tax increase in February, this political split calls for cooperation rather than conflict, said Peter Bragdon, chief of staff to Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

“People can either say, ‘We’re not going to get anything done,’ or they can agree on what the agenda is,” said Bragdon, who announced Wednesday that he is leaving his job with the governor. “I don’t think there’s going be a lot of choice” but to cooperate.

Dan Hortsch: 503-221-8223; danhortsch@news.oregonian.com

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