Wave of retirements hits the Capitol

Democrats appear to be holding onto their supermajorities in both houses of the Oregon Legislature.

Returns as of Wednesday had Democrats with a net loss of one seat in the House and no change in the Senate, if a Republican incumbent from Bend maintains a lead he wrested from his Democratic challenger overnight.

The 60% threshold — 36 seats in the House and 18 in the Senate — enables the party to approve revenue-raising measures without relying on Republican support.

The current lineup is 38 to 22 in the House and 18 to 12 in the Senate.

In the Senate, Republican Dick Anderson of Lincoln City was leading Democrat Melissa Cribbins of Coos Bay, by 2,057 votes of more than 72,000 cast, for the District 5 seat being vacated by a Democrat on the south and central coast.

Two-term Republican Tim Knopp of Bend, who trailed in initial returns, went up by 1,500 votes over Democrat Eileen Kiely of Sunriver with more than 94,000 votes cast.

But Democratic challenger Deb Patterson led appointed Republican Denyc Boles in Salem. Patterson was making a second run for the seat she lost in 2018 to Republican incumbent Jackie Winters, who died in 2019.

In the House, Republicans were leading for two open seats being vacated by Democrats on the south and north coasts.

But Republican Rep. Cheri Helt, who was elected two years ago, was trailing Democrat Jason Kropf in a Bend district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans. Helt conceded defeat Tuesday night.

Democratic Rep. Brad Witt of Clatskanie was leading his Republican opponent by 465 votes of 40,000 cast. Witt was seeking a ninth term.

All 60 House seats and 16 of the 30 Senate seats were up in Tuesday's election. One Senate seat is for the two years remaining in Jackie Winters' term.

Democrats had hoped to swing two extra seats in each chamber to ensure that lawmakers could do business.

No party has exceeded 40 seats in the House since the early 1950s. Both parties reached 20 in the Senate, Democrats most recently in 1991 and Republicans in 1997, but each only for a single two-year cycle.

Minority Republicans walked out three times in 2019 and once in 2020 to block votes on bills they opposed. Democrats got Republicans to return in 2019 only after they jettisoned some of their priorities and declared they lacked the simple majorities to pass climate-change legislation.

The majority party in each chamber usually prevails in choosing the presiding officer (House speaker and Senate president) who controls the flow of legislation by appointing committee members and leaders, and assigning bills to committees. In 2021, lawmakers also will have the tasks of drawing new legislative and congressional district lines based on the 2020 Census.

Democrats have held majorities in both chambers for the past eight years.

Oregon Senate

The Senate will have at least five new faces in addition to at least one Democrat who apparently unseated a Republican incumbent. Democrats Laurie Monnes Anderson of Gresham and Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay are retiring, and Democrat Mark Hass of Beaverton gave up his seat in a losing primary bid for secretary of state. Republican Herman Baertschiger of Grants Pass was elected a Josephine County commissioner.

Leading for those seats were Democratic Rep. Chris Gorsek of Troutdale, Republican Dick Anderson of Lincoln City, Democrat Kate Lieber of Portland and Republican Art Robinson of Cave Junction.

In addition, an appointee will succeed Democratic state Sen. Shemia Fagan of Portland, who was elected secretary of state. Her Republican opponent, state Sen. Kim Thatcher of Keizer, will retain her seat because she ran mid-term.

"I feel confident that after the dust settles and we are able to do the final vote tally, we will have a strong story to tell about holding people accountable when they walk off the job," Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner of Lake Oswego said, "and on making sure the values of education, public health, sensible gun safety and the future of our planet are issues that deserve debate and a progressive bold vision in the Oregon Legislature."

Of three highly contested Senate seats in this election, the average raised by each of the major-party nominees averaged $1 million as of Oct. 28. Only one of the six candidates was well below that average.

Oregon House

The House will have at least 11 new faces in addition to Kropf, who unseated Helt, the only incumbent from either party to lose Tuesday.

Departing Democrats are Jeff Barker of Aloha, Margaret Doherty of Tigard, Chris Gorsek of Troutdale (who won his bid for the Senate), Alissa Keny-Guyer of Portland, Akasha Lawrence Spence of Portland, Caddy McKeown of Coos Bay, Tiffiny Mitchell of Astoria and Carla Piluso of Gresham.

Democrat Mitch Greenlick of Portland, who also was not seeking re-election, died May 15. The winner of the May 19 primary, Maxine Dexter of Portland, was appointed to his seat and won a full term Tuesday.

Departing Republicans are Greg Barreto of Cove, Sherrie Sprenger of Scio (who was elected a Linn County commissioner), and Carl Wilson of Grants Pass.

Republicans were leading for McKeown's and Mitchell's seats. House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, acknowledged they were "tough races."

"But we have reaffirmed our progressive majorities" in both chambers, Smith Warner said. "It sends a clear message about the kind of world we want to rebuild."

Of eight highly contested House seats — excluding the special circumstances in House District 47 — the average raised by each of the major-party candidates was $500,000. The per-candidate amounts vary widely, from $122,000 to almost $1 million.

In four of the eight races, the candidates have raised $1 million or more — up to $1.8 million.

In House District 47 in East Portland, two-term Democrat Diego Hernandez turned back a challenge from Ashton Simpson, the Working Families Party candidate, who drew support from women's groups, labor unions and some Democrats.

Hernandez was winning with 50%.

The House Committee on Conduct initiated an investigation into allegations against Hernandez but has still issued no report after six months. House Speaker Tina Kotek of Portland called on Hernandez to resign, but Hernandez received small contributions to his campaign from six sitting representatives and one senator.

A Simpson victory would have been a first for a third-party legislative candidate in recent Oregon history, although two candidates were elected with no party label to the Senate in 1974 and to the House in 1998. Both later affiliated with the major parties.

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