Post Election Recap

Post Election Recap

Dems Pick Up Seats in the House but What Does it Mean for Oregon Business?

The 2012 election cycle is in the books. As you know, President Obama was reelected for another four years at the national level. In Oregon, the only change was in the House of Representatives, which changed from a 30-30 seat tie among Republicans and Democrats, to a division of 34-26 with Democratic control.

Many of those in Oregon’s political circles are now analyzing what kind of a message Oregon voters are sending the State Legislature by the four-seat swing, but I do not believe the election cycle sent a message. If you’re a history buff, you should see a clear message delivered by voters. A pollster previously told me that Democrats in Oregon pick up seats in every presidential election. I argued with the pollster, but I guess we all know now who was right.

A week before the election, there were several seats that were statically tied with 15-20 percent of the voters undecided. The Democrats won by nearly five percent of the vote or more in almost all of those races.  So, just like the previous Presidential elections before, Obama’s reelection campaign impacted the “down the ticket” Democrat races. In contrast, the non-presidential election years generally serve as a better reflection of voter reactions to state elected Republicans and Democrats.

Looking at recent history, I admit that Jeff Merkley surprised me when he was Speaker of the House in 2007. Merkley was an active and passionate advocate for many of his causes, and often times elected officials with that type of demeanor are not always successful as legislative leaders. Legislative leaders need to negotiate budgets and broker policy compromises. As it turned out, Speaker Merkley was easy to work with and ORLA, as an organization, was able to work toward common ground with him.

The Democrats improved their majority to 36 votes after Merkley’s tenure as Speaker. However, Dave Hunt was a different story. He was a hard-charging Speaker that not only attacked business groups, but also fought with the Democrats in the Senate and the Democratic Governor. The Democrats lost six seats in the next election, and Hunt lost his Speakership and lost a bid for County Commission.

Democrats elected Arnie Roblan as Co-Speaker this past Legislative Session, and Speaker Roblan worked well with ORLA in terms of finding solutions. As a result of his effective leadership, the Democrats picked up four seats this year. Now, the Democrats will likely elect Representative Tina Kotek to be Speaker in January. Kotek is a passionate and aggressive advocate for the issues she strongly favors.

Passion is a solid quality for a legislator, but again can be the downfall for someone in legislative leadership. Representative Kotek has been in office through the ups and downs of Merkley, Hunt and Roblan’s leadership. We will all have to watch and see what kind of a path she chooses, and what impact her leadership might have on the next election cycle.

The numbers are closer in both chambers – the Oregon Senate and House of Representatives – than they were four years ago when Dave Hunt tried to force his will on everyone, driving wedges in the business community. Senate President Peter Courtney has also been in office throughout the House Democratic Leadership changes, and he continues to be President of the Senate. His chamber has grown far more business-friendly with each passing session. If newly-elected Speaker Kotek is too aggressive, it will also create problems for President Courtney. I suspect that he does not want additional political bouts to occur in his chamber, and possibly give Republicans more ammunition to keep their momentum growing in the Senate.

So the voters gave the Democrats another chance to lead with a comfortable margin in the House at 34-26. Everyone has a clean slate and House Democrats will have new leadership. There is an old saying in “those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.” It is time to see if the Democrats have been studying their history. | BILL PERRY

Bill Perry -