Political Fundraisers Mark Political Landscape

Will Senate President Peter Courtney retain leadership of the Oregon State Senate? The fundraising race is on to see who will control the Oregon legislature. Photo photo courtesy of Oregon Live.It seems like there is a fundraiser almost every day as Democrats and Republicans jockey for position heading into the 2012 election year. Of course, the key to setting the stage for tough campaigns is raising the money to fund them, and that is aggressively under way.

As Statesman-Journal political writer Peter Wong commented, many eyes are focused on the House, where currently control is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. To be sure, there will be campaigns for many House seats that could turn the tide in the direction of one party or the other.

Two examples:

  • House Co-Speaker Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, has announced he will run for the Senate seat being vacated by Senator Joanne Verger, also a Democrat. That puts the Roblan House seat in play.
  • Farther north on the Coast, Rep. Jean Cowan, D-Newport, indicated she will retire at the end of her term. Republicans have a genuine shot at reclaiming the seat they held for several terms before Cowan took the seat.

Democrats expect to retain House seats they hold in the Portland and Eugene areas. But to win back control, Democrats must regain seats in suburban areas of Portland that they lost in a sweep that erased their supermajority in the 2009 session and resulted in the 30-30 split in the 2011 session. This won't be easy, the GOP victors in 2010 are now incumbents and many can boast solid freshmen years in the legislature.

In his Capitol Watch column, Wong reports half of the 30 Senate seats are up for election in 2012. Four Democrat incumbents are from Portland — Senators Ginny Burdick, Jackie Dingfelder, Diane Rosenbaum and Chip Shields — are favored to win re-election in 2012. So is a fifth Democrat, Mark Hass from Beaverton.

Eight Republican incumbents from rural Oregon — Senators Ted Ferrioli, Dave Nelson, Chris Telfer, Jeff Kruse, Jason Atkinson, Brian Boquist, Fred Girod and Doug Whitsett — all should win re-election handily, though the Girod seat in the Stayton area sometimes produces an election contest.

This puts two seats in play — and the result, in a chamber currently controlled by Democrats by a 16 to 14 margin, will indicate which party controls the political process in 2013. The two seats are:

  • The Verger seat on the South Coast, which could go either way. The fact that Roblan has declared for the seat may give an edge of sorts to the Democrats, but his opponent could be Dr. Scott Roberts, an oral surgeon from North Bend, a Republican who already had filed for the seat and gave Roblan a tussle in 2010 for his current House seat.
  • A seat currently held by Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, will be another battleground. Though Monnes Anderson has won several previous elections in East Multnomah County, Republicans say they are targeting her seat. She got a boost last week at a downtown Portland fundraiser that was well-attended by lobbyists, along with Governor John Kitzhaber. The governor said Democrats could not afford to lose the seat, both because of Monnes Anderson's role as a moderate Democrat experienced in health care policy issues — she is a public health nurse by training — and because her re-election would help to assure that current Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Keizer, would retain his leadership position.

Courtney got the Senate President post as a result of a power-sharing arrangement after the 2002 election when, for the second time in history, Democrats and Republicans ended up tied 15 to 15. He has kept it since for a record five sessions.

Even this early, more than a year before the November 2012 general election, lobbyists and others are paying close attention to the coming battle for control of the Senate and the House. They are wandering around attending myriad fundraisers, which usually feature late-afternoon wine and hors d'oeuvres -- plus, of course, the political contribution checks.

The battle for control matters. In the 2011 legislative session, with control split almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats, the political climate produced solid middle ground solutions on a number of complicated public policy issues. In the 2009 legislative session, by contrast, Democrats held sway by supermajority margins in both the House and the Senate and the result was a series of actions tilted heavily toward the left side of the spectrum, including new taxes on business, which still rankle those who pay them.

So, if you are invited to early fundraisers and choose to attend, know that you are participating in a process that will carry significant implications for the conduct of the public's business in 2013.

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[The author, CFM partner Dave Fiskum, who has lobbied in Oregon for more than 30 years, has seen sessions where Democrats were in charge by wide margins and where Republicans were in charge by wide margins. If it matters, he tends to favor split control where solutions to public policy issues are negotiated in the middle.]