The Results of Election Results

Rep. Tina Kotek will become the first lesbian House Speaker in the nation and face a mountain of policy challenges, from PERS reform to funding the controversial Columbia River Crossing. (Credit: Willamette Week)As Monday morning quarterbacks dissect Tuesday's election results, political operatives are busy figuring out what can happen as a result.

By virtue of Democrats reclaiming the Oregon House with a projected 34-26 margin, one party now controls both houses of the legislature, the governorship and other statewide offices. Questions abound on whether that is good or bad for various issues.

For example, will Democratic control throttle any effort to stem rising Public Employee Retirement System changes, which are squeezing K-12 schools, state agencies and local government? Public-employee-union financial and grassroots support played a major role in giving Democrats a majority in the House and may frown on any major changes.

Or, will the advent of Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland, as Speaker of the House help the sagging fortunes of the Columbia River Crossing project, which she strongly supports? Clark County voters dealt the latest blow by rejecting a funding measure for the extension of light rail north of the Columbia River.

And, will the legislature feel empowered to tackle thorny issues such as liquor privatization, marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage to forestall proposed initiative drives in 2014? Washington action on all three subjects could serve as motivation, as well as pressure on Kotek, who is poised to become the first lesbian Speaker of the House in the nation.

Add to that stew the frothy ingredients already on the table, including a set of expiring health care taxes, K-12 reform proposals, early childhood learning recommendations, postsecondary institutional aspirations and prison sentencing options. Not to mention a simmering concern — and debate — about how to stimulate job creation, which ranks highest on most voter priorities.

It does seem obvious that tax reform, the subject of a work group named by Governor Kitzhaber, will be an unlikely topic in the 2013 session. There isn't enough agreement in the work group, let alone among voters, and there may not be enough time to tackle the topic in an already congested 6-month legislative session.

The absence of supermajorities in either the House or Senate spells the need for bipartisan support for any tax increases and probably for any significant policy advances, such as PERS reforms.

House Republicans will be on guard for signals on whether the House will maintain at least some of the bipartisan power-sharing patterns established in the 2011 and 2012 sessions, when there was split control at 30-30.

Kotek and her leadership team will need to be sensitive to the political needs and policy preferences of the four suburban Democrats who unseated freshmen Republicans. They represent possibly the only swing House districts in the state and are apt to be a moderating influence on the House Democratic caucus in this session.

The House Democratic caucus will have two Latino members for the first time, Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson of Portland and Joe Gallegos in Hillsboro.

For Kitzhaber, it is the first time in his three terms as governor he will enjoy Democratic control of both the House and Senate. While pleased, Kitzhaber has assumed a post-partisan posture in his third term, establishing solid rapport with Republican caucuses as well as with Democratic ones. He is expected to continue that practice, which produced for him solid wins on major education and health care reforms.

Even though there is basically a political status quo in the Senate, the rumblings of change will be heard. Newly elected Tim Knopp, R-Bend, is expected to press conservative objectives more aggressively in the Republican caucus and there will be stirrings to replace Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, who will preside over a record-shattering sixth session in 2013, but may be close to retirement.

The next steps involve caucus meetings to select their leaders for the new session and zero in on their respective legislative priorities.

Our Monday morning quarterbacking assessment on what happened Tuesday is that the hotly contested presidential race ensured a strong Democratic turnout in a state that has emerged as more reliably blue in the last decade. Republican gains here in 2010 derived from a mix of displeasure with federal health care reform and a pair of divisive state tax measures. 

Because Oregon is a blue state, national Republicans tend to write off campaigning here — Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan never held a public event in Oregon during the fall campaign. Meanwhile, Democrats benefit from an impressive track record of running coordinated campaigns, supporting candidates from the top to the bottom of the ballot.

Fusion party politics also tended to benefit Democrats who secured endorsements from minor parties that appeared on ballots, expanding their appeal.