AFL-CIO's Witt appointed state rep in District 31

Brad Witt, secretary-treasurer of the Oregon AFL-CIO, has been appointed to the House of Representatives in District 31. He will fill the unexpired term of Democrat Betsy Johnson of Scappoose, who was appointed to the State Senate to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Democrat Joan Dukes, who accepted an appointment to the Northwest Power Planning Council.

District 31 runs along the Columbia River from Sauvie Island on the edge of Multnomah County, through Clatskanie in Columbia County, to Astoria in Clatsop County.

Witt, a 15-year resident of Clatskanie, was sworn into office Jan. 27 by Governor Ted Kulongoski. Republican House Speaker Karen Minnis issued an official welcome prior to his swearing-in as a large contingent of family, well-wishers and elected officials looked on from the House floor.

The process to become a state representative was short but exhausting, Witt said.

At a nominating convention of Democratic precinct committee delegates Jan. 23 at Clatskanie High School, Witt emerged with more than 17,000 votes, far ahead of five other candidates. The other applicants were Margaret Magruder and Earl Fisher of Clatskanie, Jim Servino and Don Atwood of Astoria, and Mike Sheehan of Scappoose. Atwood is a retired member of the Carpenters Union.

Magruder — a third-generation resident and family agricultural operator, and Fisher, a retired Knappa and Clatskanie school administrator — were the other finalists with approximately 10,000 votes each. Magruder is the granddaughter, daughter and sister of former state legislators.

Despite his strong showing at the convention, Witt’s appointment was uncertain until the last moment, following fierce opposition lobbying by business and agricultural interests, reported Tim Nesbitt, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, in the Weekly Update.

County commissioners cast the deciding vote Jan. 26 via a telephone conference call linking commissioners from Multnomah and Clatsop counties to the Columbia County Courthouse in St. Helens. Votes were weighted by population in District 31, meaning Columbia County carried most of the power in the appointment with 75 percent of the vote; Clatsop County accounted for 24 percent and Multnomah County just 1 percent.

All three candidates were at the courthouse to answer questions and give prepared statements.

Witt clearly had the firmest grip of the Legislature and how it operates, as was noted by Clatsop County Commission Vice Chair Lylla Gaebel, who said she wanted to send someone to the House “who can hit the ground running.”

Witt impressed the commissioners by articulating his vision of a good-jobs economy based on economic, social and environmental sustainability. He was the only candidate to support deepening of the Columbia River channel.

In the end, Witt received the full support of Multnomah County Commissioners Lonnie Roberts, Lisa Naito, Maria Rojo de Steffey, Serena Cruz and County Chair Dianne Linn. He also was supported by two of the three Columbia County Commissioners — Rita Bernard and Tony Hyde; and one of the five Clatsop County commissioners — Lylla Gaebel.

Magruder was favored by Columbia County Commissioner Joe Corsiglia and Clatsop County Commissioners Richard Lee, Sam Patrick, Helen Westbrook and Pat Roberts.

Witt joins five other union members in the House, including Diane Rosenbaum of Communications Workers of America Local 7901; Jeff Barker, retired president of the Portland Police Association; Gary Hansen of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290; Steve March of the American Federation of Teachers-Oregon; and Paul Holvey of the Carpenters Union.

Witt will take a paid leave of absence from the Oregon AFL-CIO while the Legislature is in session. He said his priority as a lawmaker will be to promote family-wage jobs.

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