By Darrell W. Fuller
“It was a dark and stormy night” and when all the ballots are counted, the numbers will have changed little in the Oregon Legislature. All 60 House seats were up for re-election while 16 of the 30 Senate seats were on the ballot (76 total legislative races).
Let’s look at the numbers.
After the 2012 election, the Oregon Senate had 16 Democrats and 14 Republicans and the Oregon House of Representatives had 34 Democrats and 26 Republicans. After the 2014 election, the Oregon Senate will have 17 Democrats and 13 Republicans* and the Oregon House will have 35 Democrats and 25 Republicans.
Millions and millions of dollars -- much of it from out-of-state billionaires -- were spent on these 76 Legislative races, all for a net partisan shift of only one seat in the State Senate and one seat in the State House. And out of 61 incumbents running for re-election, 59 won.
Of the 16 State Senate races, 15 had an incumbent running and 14 of those 15 incumbents won. The only incumbent to lose: State Sen. Betsy Close (R-Albany). This race is why Democrats gained one seat in the Senate.
Only one State House incumbents lost: State Rep. Jim Thompson (R-Dallas) lost in the May Primary to a more conservative Republican. Of the 60 House members, 46 campaigned for re-election and 45 won.
While a partisan shift of +1 Democrat in the Senate may seem insignificant, next year’s Legislative Session will likely demonstrate how important a one-seat shift can be in politics. With last session’s razor thin 16-14 Democratic majority in the Senate, conservative-leaning Democratic State Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) sometimes sided with the GOP on controversial bills, creating a 15-15 tie. (Controversial? Think gun control, for example.) Those controversial bills never made it to the Governor’s desk. Now, with a 17-13 Democratic majority, even if Sen. Johnson continues to vote with the GOP on controversial issues, they will pass 16-14, assuming Senate Republicans can’t convince another Democrat to cross party lines.
Across the nation, Republicans had a big night on election day. The GOP took control of the U.S. Senate and substantially increased their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Oregon was an outlier. Democrats will continue to control the Office of Governor, the state Senate and the state House of Representatives.
* The State Senate numbers assume State Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) wins re-election. As I write this, he has a 123 vote lead out of more than 30,000 votes counted with thousands still to count. (Moral to this story: Yes, every vote does count.) If State Sen. Starr loses, the Democratic majority will be 18-12.