Two Legislative Incumbents Face Stiff Challenges

Democratic Rep. Mike Schaufler and GOP Senator Chris Telfer both find themselves in the unusual spot of facing stiff primary challenges this May.It is unusual but not unheard of that two sitting legislators — a House Democrat and a Senate Republican — are facing stiff primary challenges. Even more unusual, both could lose in the May election.

Rep. Mike Schaufler, D-Happy Valley, a member of the building trades, often parts company with his more liberal Democratic colleagues, as well as public employee labor organizations, such as SEIU and AFSCME.

Plus, last summer at a labor convention, he got into trouble when a female lobbyist claimed he groped her breast. Schaufler called it "innocent horseplay."  House Democrats took the incident seriously and stripped Schaufler of the chairmanship of House Business and Labor Committee.

Now many of Schaufler's Democratic colleagues are backing his primary opponent, Portland teacher Jeff Reardon, who has never run for political office before. 

Here's the way Oregonian political reporter Jeff Mapes described the high-stakes and money-laden Schaufler-Reardon race:

         The newly detailed disclosure reports show that — if money is indeed the mother's milk of politics — two incumbent legislators face tough reelection races. In a House district including parts of Southeast Portland and Clackamas County, six Democratic legislators took the rare step of writing campaign checks aimed at taking out one of their own colleagues, Rep. Mike Schaufler, D-Happy Valley. The six lawmakers wrote checks totaling more than $10,000 for high school teacher Jeff Reardon's race against Schaufler, who has departed from Democratic orthodoxy on some issues and also lost a committee co-chairmanship following a flap about his behavior at a labor convention. 'There's always a risk when you do something like this,' said Portland Senator Ginny Burdick, who gave $1,500 to Reardon. Portland Senator Chip Shields gave Reardon $5,000. Schaufler, who has released his own list of legislators endorsing him, continues to have strong support from several business and labor groups and maintains a fundraising lead over Reardon.

The other incumbent under fire is Senator Chris Telfer, R-Bend. She was surprised to learn just before the candidate-filing deadline that former representative Tim Knopp, now executive director of the Central Oregon Homebuilders Association, decided to run against her.

Knopp, who rose to become House Majority Leader, has mounted a very aggressive campaign — fueled by contributions from business organizations as well as $25,000 from Nevada businessman Loren Parks, long a huge donor to conservative political causes in Oregon. Since filing in early May, Knopp has raised nearly $100,000 compared to about $12,000 by Telfer.

It is not absolutely clear what prompted Knopp to challenge Telfer, who ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 2010. One irritation may have been the role she played to produce the legislative redistricting plan that eventually cleared the legislature. On the House side, architects won plaudits for their work. In the Senate, Telfer absorbed criticism because one of the House Republicans whose district suffered in the deal was Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, who has endorsed Knopp, though declined to say anything negative about Telfer.  

Telfer also might have angered conservative interests by being open to working across party lines to change the "kicker law," thus allowing excess tax collections to go into a rainy day fund instead of refunded to taxpayers.

While incumbents have been challenged in these two races, the overall make-up of the legislature will not change based on the results. Both seats are expected to remain in the grip of the same party.

What the challenges do underline is that the battle for control of the House and Senate this year will be intense and expensive. Both business and organized labor appear ready and willing to open up their wallets and make hefty contributions.