Oregon voters bucked the national trend of a Republican “tsunami” in the midterm elections, re-electing Democrat Ron Wyden to the U.S. Senate and Democrats Earl Blumenauer, David Wu, Kurt Schrader and Peter DeFazio to the House of Representatives. All were endorsed by organized labor.
In the race for Oregon governor, labor-backed Democrat John Kitzhaber squeaked to a victory over Republican Chris Dudley.
In the only other statewide race, Democrat Ted Wheeler was elected state treasurer, defeating Republican Chris Telfer by a 52-43 percent margin.
Nationally, Democrats remained in control of the U.S. Senate. At press time, the makeup was 51 Democrats to 46 Republicans, with three races still undecided. One of those undecided races was in Washington, where Patty Murray was holding a slim lead over Dino Rossi.
At press time it was also projected that Republicans would pick up at least 60 seats in the U.S. House — the largest swing since 1948, according to CNN.
The Republican leadership — as part of its “Pledge to America”— has vowed to oppose additional spending to stimulate the economy. That’s bad news for construction workers because President Obama had a plan to spend $50 billion on roads, railways and airports. Republicans also say they will repeal Obama’s health care reform law and are likely to try to rebuff extending unemployment insurance benefits to some 6 million long-term unemployed and scale back the overhaul of financial regulation that the outgoing Democratic Congress passed last summer. One thing Obama might succeed at would be passing the Korean Free Trade Agreement, which he supports, much to organized labor’s chagrin.
Speaking to union activists and volunteers on election night, Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain called the Oregon campaign “a long slog” that began in January when voters approved ballot measures requiring the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share of taxes.
“The backlash has been that they’ve poured millions of dollars trying to buy an election,” Chamberlain said.
Chamberlain said Oregon AFL-CIO efforts were responsible for 35,000 telephone calls, 65,000 door knocks, and 20,000 leaflets distributed. And as of Election Day, Chamberlain said, voter turnout among Oregon union members was 7 percentage points higher than the general public.
Among a roster of Oregon “labor legislators” re-elected to office were House incumbents Jeff Barker (former officer in the Portland Police Association); Michael Dembrow (long-time vice president of American Federation of Teachers); Paul Holvey (business rep for the Carpenters); Brad Witt (business rep for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555); Greg Matthews (a member of Gresham Fire Fighters); and Mike Schaufler (a former member of the Laborers Union).
Newcomers Claudia Kyle of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48, and Doug Ainge of the Oregon Education Association lost their House races.
The Oregon House was evently split at 30-30. Democrats controlled the Oregon House last session 36-24.
In the Oregon Senate, Democrats were clinging to a 15-13 advantage, with two races still undecided at press time. A majority requires 16 seats.
Union Steelworker Bruce Cronk, the Working Families Party candidate for U.S. Senate, got 12,412 votes — 1.22 percent of the total, and the highest of three minor party candidates. That result of over 1 percent means the party will continue to be certified as an official minor political party.
On statewide ballot measures, Oregon voters turned back a proposal to allow a private developer to build a casino in Multnomah County. Measure 75 had support from the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council.
Voters approved Measure 70, making low-interest home loans available to more military veterans; Measure 71, requiring the Legislature to meet every year; Measure 72, to allow the Legislature to use bonds with lower interest rates for building projects; and Measure 76, dedicating 15 percent of lottery funds for protecting waterways, preserving natural areas and staffing state parks.
Oregonians also passed Measure 73, to boost the mandatory minimum sentences for repeat drunken drivers and sex offenders. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Oregon Nurses Association, as well as Dudley and Kitzhaber, opposed Measure 73 because the increased prison costs aren’t offset, so funding will have to come from other state services.
Measure 74, to create nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries and a producer supply system was soundly defeated.
In the race for Metro president, labor-endorsed Tom Hughes, a former mayor of Hillsboro, led environmentalist Bob Stacey 51 percent to 49 percent in incomplete returns at press time.
In Portland, voters rejected the city’s public campaign finance system for city-wide elected offices; the so-called Voter-Owned Elections ballot measure had union backing.
Multnomah County voters passed ballot measures to fund the Oregon Historical Society, and to allow future votes on library funding. Both measures were supported by the Northwest Oregon Labor Council.
Former Wyden aide Loretta Smith, who had a wide range of labor endorsements, won the race for Multnomah County Commission, District 2.
In Lane County, Pat Riggs-Henson, a retired member of AFSCME Local 2831 and former AFL-CIO Executive Board member, lost her bid for the Lane County Commission. She was defeated by Springfield Mayor Sid Leiken.
Election night was bittersweet for the Washington union movement.
In Southwest Washington’s Third Congressional District, Republican Jaime Herrera defeated labor-endorsed Democrat Denny Heck for the seat vacated by Democrat Brian Baird.
Ballot measures supported by the Washington State Labor Council were rejected by voters: A measure to establish the state’s first-ever income tax on the highest income earners was defeated by a wide margin, and so was a measure that would have put building trades members to work retrofitting schools.
Meanwhile, at least two initiatives opposed by labor passed: repeal of the soda and candy tax, and a measure that requires a two-thirds’ majority for the Legislature to raise taxes.
But the initiative that was most heavily opposed by unions — a measure to privatize Washington’s workers’ compensation system — also failed, to the relief of union leaders. And two ballot measures privatizing liquor sales — both opposed by labor — appeared headed to defeat.
In Clark County, former AFSCME union member Tony Golik was elected county prosecutor, while incumbent county clerk Sherry Parker, a former member of Office and Professional Employees Local 11, was in a dead heat against Scott Weber as of press time, leading him by less than 100 votes.