Labor vote makes the difference in tight Oregon races


Organized labor’s get-out-the-vote campaign propelled Democrat John Kitzhaber to the governor’s mansion in Oregon. By the narrowest of margins, Kitzhaber, an emergency room doctor who served two terms as governor from 1995-2003, defeated political newcomer Chris Dudley, a former NBA basketball player, 49 percent to 48 percent.

Kitzhaber was endorsed by virtually every labor organization in the state.

According to Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain, labor unions — including community affiliate Working America and Change to Win’s Service Employees International Union and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, but not the Carpenters or Teamsters unions — represent the third-largest voting bloc in the state, with 350,000 members. Chamberlain said union families turned out for the midterms at a higher rate than the general population. Unofficially, voter turnout in Oregon was 71 percent. Union family turnout was estimated to be 79 percent.

“Historically, polling after the election reveals that union and Working America families vote for their unions’ endorsed candidates 75 percent of the time,” Chamberlain said.

Kitzhaber won by fewer than 20,000 votes out of nearly 1.4 million ballots cast.

Labor-endorsed candidates also fared quite well down the ticket.

All of the state labor federation’s endorsed federal and statewide candidates won, including Ted Wheeler for state treasurer and Susan Castillo for superintendent of public instruction (in the May primary).

Sen. Ron Wyden will return to a Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate; however, re-elected congressmen David Wu, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader will have to give up their committee leadership roles because nationally, Republicans picked up 60 seats to take majority control of the House. (Oregon Republican Greg Walden also was re-elected. He was endorsed by the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council and Teamsters Joint Council 37.)

Seventy-five percent of the Oregon AFL-CIO’s endorsed candidates for state Senate won, as did 70 percent of its state House candidates, including two Republicans. That is significant because the House is split between Democrats and Republicans 30-30.

Democrats will control the Oregon Senate 16-14, and their newly-elected majority leader will be Diane Rosenbaum, a member of Communications Workers of America and a former AFL-CIO Executive Board member.

In local races, Tom Hughes, a former school teacher and two-term mayor of Hillsboro, defeated environmentalist Bob Stacey for president of Metro. With a margin of victory of only 1,017 votes out of nearly 400,000 cast, Hughes got a major boost from having union support, including the Columbia Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council and the Northwest Oregon Labor Council (NOLC).

“In a race this close, the union votes he received from union members looking for the jobs-candidate in that race may actually have pushed him over the top,” the AFL-CIO said.

Other NOLC-backed winners on Nov. 2 included Ann Lininger for Clackamas County commissioner; Greg Malinowski for Washington County commissioner; Loretta Smith for Multnomah County commissioner; and passage of Multnomah County ballot measures 26-114 (creating a future alternative funding option for the library), and 26-118 (a 5-year operating levy for the Oregon Historical Society).

In Albany, the Linn-Benton-Lincoln Labor Council and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 helped to re-elect Sharon Konopa mayor by knocking on virtually every union-member door in the city. Sharon is married to Steve Konopa, a former Local 555 union official who now works for the Teamsters.

In Washington, the Southwest Washington Central Labor Council helped re-elect Patty Murray to the U.S. Senate, but fell short in the 3rd District U.S. House race, where Republican Jaime Herrera defeated Denny Heck for the seat vacated by Democrat Brian Baird.

In Legislative races, Democrats Tim Probst (17th Dist.), Jim Jacks (49th Dist.), and Jim Moeller (49th Dist.), were re-elected to their seats in the Washington House of Representatives. All three won by sizeable margins.

Monica Stonier, a member of the Washington Education Association, lost in her bid for a House seat in the 17th District, as did Dennis Kampe in the 18th District. Both are Democrats.

Democrats retained majorities in both the House and Senate.

In Clark County, former AFSCME local union president Tony Golik was elected prosecutor, defeating Brent Boger 55 percent to 45 percent for an open seat. Former Office and Professional Employees Local 11 member Sherry Parker lost her re-election race for county clerk. She was outpolled by Scott Weber by a margin of 50.50 percent to 49.35 percent. Labor-endorsed Steve Stuart was re-elected county commissioner, and Doug Lasher was re-elected county treasurer, but political newcomer Janet Seekins lost her race for the open post for county assessor.


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