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Bennett's Blog: Oregon's blue period Print E-mail

chuck-bennettIt's a new political landscape in Oregon.

After 12 years of divided government in Salem, Democrats made it official -- Oregon is a blue state.

In the 75 legislative districts that were up for election to Oregon's statehouse, Oregonians chose the Democratic lever and turned away from divided government. For years the conventional wisdom has been that most statewide races will go Democratic and the state House or Senate will be Republican -- not any more.  Just visit the Secretary of State's election website  and you'll see what happened.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski won. Okay, he didn't just win. He won big. For a second term governor in the most expensive governor's race in Oregon history, he won really big.  For education advocates that is very good news. The Governor ran on a solid platform on education he has termed the "Oregon Education Enterprise" that devotes fully 61% of Oregon's budget to pre-school through higher education. He has promised that K-12 funding will be at least $6 billion. He has set funding targets that create a rainy day fund and provide a road map to reaching the ambitious Quality Education funding model.  Yeow!

But voters didn't stop there. 

After years of passing one state budget restricting ballot measure after another, Oregonians resoundingly returned to their senses and defeated ballot measures that would have handed Kulongoski almost insurmountable budget and service cuts. Measures 41 and 48 would have at least cut 2007-09 spending by $2.3 billion and in the out years left Oregonians with a government service package that ignored education, public safety, health and the list just goes on. Instead of that mess, Kulongoski will get to write his budget amidst bullish economic forecasts and without any new constraints.

Even more remarkable, voters decided to go even further in their investment in Kulongoski. Not unexpectedly, they left the Oregon Senate solidly under Democratic control -- 17 D to 11 R. There were some hotly contested races but in every case including the closely watched challenge to Eugene's Vicki Walker by former Mayor Jim Torrey, they chose the Democrat.

But the real headline of the night is the Oregon House where Democrats reversed 15 years of Republican control and turned the reins over to Kulongoski's Democratic colleagues. In short, the voters decided that after years of experimentation with divided government, Republican legislatures and Democratic executives, they would give one party a chance to move a unified agenda. And they chose the Democrats for an experiment in united government they have tried since Neil Goldshmidt held the top spot.

If you're looking for a big winner in Tuesday night's election, it has to be Portland representative Jeff Merkley.  It took over four years but Merkley's often ridiculed claim that Oregon had entered a blue period and with the right candidates backed by solid local and state campaigns he would move into the Speaker's Office.

Merkley was right and in the methodical style he is noted for he set about putting together a slate of candidates that swept Republican Washington County, broke up the Republican bastion in Marion County, added at least one rural seat in Lincoln/Lane counties and appears to have either toppled or seriously wounded current Speaker Karen Minnis in conservative East Multnomah County. Reviewing election results statewide, Merkley and company put on a full court press in all but the reddest districts in the state. The depth of the strategy can be seen in virtually every contestable race. Donna Nelson in McMinnville, Majority Leader Wayne Scott in Clackamas County, John Dallum in The Dalles, Linda Flores in Happy Valley, and the list goes on. 

The only outstanding question now is whether 31, 32 or 33 Democrats will meet in the next week to elect Merkley as the first Democratic Speaker of the House in 15 years. The real challenge for Speaker Merkley will then begin. His party has been out of power in the House long enough that there is no one left who has been in the majority. That means no one has had experience running a committee, developing a coherent policy package that would actually go into law or most importantly write a state budget. He will face a set of critical choices as he begins developing his list of committee chairs. It's a difficult balance of policy, politics and temperament that makes for successful government. And if Democrats have been handed anything on Tuesday it was the power to actually govern Oregon.

What an opportunity they have. Education, health care, public safety, jobs, privacy -- it's now on the table and expectations will be high and there won't be any excuses if at the end of the Session of the Legislature beginning January 8 there isn't a comprehensive plan to meet Oregon's identified needs. And at the top of that list is an education system that has been seriously harmed by a now ended recession and in need of rebuilding and we would hope reinvigorating.

Gov. Kulongoski has a plan. To borrow from his opponent's advertisement with the stop watch -- the clock is ticking and there shouldn't be any impediment to early passage of an education funding package that puts Oregon back on the map as something more than just a blue outline on the West Coast. 

Comments (2)Add Comment
A Republican
written by Arnie Lowder, November 12, 2006
The Democrats certainly pulled it off big time! I even voted for a few of them. Governor Kulongoski should know that much of his win was not because he had a good message or that his governorship is good. It was the lesser (and known) of two evils. Saxton's message was unclear, ambigious, and not well articulated. He lost many public servants votes with the PERS statements and the "merit pay for teachers" issues. I heard nothing that explained what he would plan to do or the reasoning behind them other than save the state money. Tip O'Neil said, "All politics are local." That is still true today. Oregonians want to know how this will effect them. Saxton failed because much of what he said was news soundbites rather than well thought out ideas and changes. If they were well thought out, he again failed to articulate them to the voters.

The Democrats will now be tested. With power comes responsibility. They are now center stage. If they whittle away this opporunity and do not get organized and set forth an agenda--any agenda, they will fail and you can see the Republicans make some gains in 2008. We have a US Senator up for re-election in 08. That can shift focus to the Republicans--not to mention the Presidential election.

I live in a truly red district (Cameron and Winters). How many of those are there in Oregon? Oregon's election, in my humble opinion, was not about Iraq. It was about Oregon. Karen Minnis failed to be a leader who moved agendas forward. She seemed divisive and partisan. That, eventually, did her in. Merkley and Courtney will have to step up to the plate and make some profound, bipartisan changes to keep the majority and some of the statewide offices up for election in 2008. The next 9 months will tell.
written by gary mounce, November 12, 2006

A zinger of hope and optimism went through me as I followed election coverage, and refected on the voting results of the people.

Key words and phases in your review have not been uttered in positive terms in the last several years. Terms,such as united, opportunity, quality education, a temperement for successful government, and a plan for an educational funding.

I feel a hearty and vigorous hurrah is in order for the leadership

climate in the state of oregon. Lets just hope our new and united leaders can work together and provide the direction they have promised. As Peter Drucker has said, "effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes".

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This page was last updated on Monday, November 13, 2006 .