With the 2012 election now 13 months away, Oregon House leaders are aggressively recruiting candidates to run against incumbents or fill open seats. The stakes are high for leaders of the Oregon House. A swing of one seat for either party will ensure control of the chamber in 2013 when the legislature meets for its next full session.
House Co-Speakers Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, and Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, have displayed a great deal of bipartisanship as they shared control of a 30-30 House. But the real prize is outright control where one party sets the policy agenda, control committees and negotiates with the Senate and Governor.
That's what made the action last week to strip Rep. Mike Schaufler, D-Happy Valley, of his co-chairmanship of House Business and Labor, so engrossing. If Schaufler, who is accused of groping a woman at the recent Oregon AFL-CIO convention, were to resign or not seek re-election over the incident, his House seat could become an immediate target of opportunity in the battle for control, even with a 19 percent Democratic registration edge. As it is, both Democratic and Republican leaders are cautiously optimistic of gaining control in 2013.
Democrats believe redistricting approved in the 2011 session gives them a leg-up in districts that Republicans grabbed from them in the 2010 "GOP landslide" election. For example, the Clackamas County seat held by Rep. Patrick Sheehan went from a 2.8 percent Democratic registration edge to 7.2 percent and the Bend seat held by Rep. Jason Conger went from 2.5 percent to 5.6 percent.
They also are confident they can grab back the seat held by Hillsboro freshman Rep. Katie Eyre Brewer. However, the Democratic nominee must survive a high-profile primary fight. Katie Riley, who lost to Eyre Brewer in 2010 and is the wife of former Rep. Chuck Riley, wants a rematch. However, political operative Ben Unger has decided to run for the seat. His family runs Unger Farms, a prominent local business.
Before ousting Republican members, Democrats need to protect four of their current seats that have come open via retirements and members seeking other positions. They include seats held by Reps. Ben Cannon, Jefferson Smith, Dave Hunt and Jean Cowan. The Smith and Cannon seats shouldn't be problem since they are strong Democratic districts. The Hunt and Cowan seats have Democratic registration edges, but are viewed as swing districts, especially when the GOP base is activated to unseat President Obama.
In the Hunt seat, former Rep. Brent Barton is moving to the district to return to the House. He represented an adjacent Clackamas County district in 2009-2010, but gave it up to run unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2010. Barton is a tenacious campaigner, which will be necessary since this district and its voters are new to him.
Republicans leaders are ecstatic because all of their members — including six freshmen — are running for re-election and ready for the fight. Their first order of business is to play defense as Democrats try to take out some of their freshman who beat incumbents in 2010. If they can hold their existing seats and pick up just one, then House control will be theirs, something that hasn't happened since 2006.
House GOP leaders also feel good about grabbing the Cowan and Hunt district seats. They will try to take out Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, a retired police officer who is very popular. However, when he signaled he might not seek re-election, Republicans recruited Manuel Castaneda, a prominent Hispanic businessman, whom they believe is a perfect fit for the district.
The campaign strategy for both Republicans and Democrats is simple and straightforward — it takes one to control.