Republicans Face Uphill Challenge for Control

Oregon Republicans face a steeper hill than Democrats to regain control of the Oregon House.The battleground for control of the Oregon House and Senate in 2013 is narrow, with perhaps as few as a handful of races to determine which party holds the gavel. It appears Republicans have the most challenging terrain to regain control.

House Republicans surged from a 24-36 deficit in the 2009 session to win six suburban seats, forcing a 30-30 power-sharing agreement in the 2011 and 2012 sessions. Now Republicans have to stand those six seats and pick up at least one more in a swing district to control the House

Control of the Senate more or less boils down to the open Senate seat on the Southern Oregon Coast being vacated by the retirement of Senator Joanne Verger, D-Coos Bay. Unless political wisdom is turned upside down, the seat should stay in Democratic hands with House Co-Speaker Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, winning it.

Jeff Mapes, senior political reporter for The Oregonian, narrowed the contest for control of the House to 10 races. But mid-summer, after fundraising totals and polling results are analyzed, that number probably will dwindle to four or five.

The three GOP freshmen viewed as most vulnerable by Democrats are Reps. Patrick Sheehan of Clackamas, Katie Eyre of Hillsboro and Julie Parrish of West Linn. All have credible, hardworking Democratic opponents.

Republican hopes for pick-ups center on two coastal House seats — Roblan's, which he is vacating to run for the Senate, and Jean Cowan's, which will be open following her retirement. GOP operatives also believe Rep. Betty Komp, D-Woodburn, could be upset with a repeat opponent, Kathy LeCompte, who reportedly is working harder than she did in 2010. She will have to work pretty hard to keep up with Komp.

Two races a little less under the political radar involve Rep. Matt Wand, R-Troutdale, and Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, who have attracted significant opponents. Barker, who has hinted at retirement after the last two sessions, will face GOP newcomer Manuel Castenada, whom many observers believe could be a rising GOP political star. Barker, a former Oregon State and Portland police officer, has earned bipartisan respect for his leadership on the House Judiciary Committee.

Control of the House and Senate determines who chairs committees and what legislation will be heard or buried. It also is part of the larger political jockeying with a popular governor in the middle of his third term.

Behind the races on the ballot is political hand-wrestling for dominance in respective caucuses. Here, the most intriguing news is in the House and Senate GOP caucuses. Some observers report a possible competition between more conservative elements of the House GOP caucus and House Co-Speaker Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, and his close ally, Rep. Kevin Cameron, R-Salem. If Republicans take control of the House, it might make little political difference. However, if Democrats take control, the conservatives in the caucus may press for more vocal opposition.

Hanna was the keynote speaker last week at a large fundraiser in Medford put on by Reps. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, and Sal Esquivel, R-Medford. Richardson is seen as one of the leaders of the conservative wing of the caucus.

Another leader, Rep. Matt Wingard, R-Wilsonville, found himself engulfed in a scandal over a sexual entanglement with a former aide. Unlike Roblan who stripped Rep. Mike Schaufler, D-Happy Valley, of his committee chairmanship after he allegedly groped a female lobbyist, Hanna took no action to punish Wingard when his scandal broke. However, Wingard stepped down from his caucus leadership position.

On the Senate side, the primary victory of Tim Knopp over Senator Chris Telfer, R-Bend, has political tongues wagging about how he will fit in the Senate Republican caucus, led by Senator Ted Ferriloli, R-John Day. Ferrioli may have his worries, but Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, may fret more by what could be a more energetic opposition — prompted by Knopp, who formerly was House majority leader.