What were the big stories of 2006?

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

It's nearly the end of the year, and it's always interesting to look back at the year that was.

Inspired by a post over at NW Republican (really!), I've been thinking about the Top 10 most important political events in Oregon this year. Later this week, I think I'll ask for more quantitive feedback - but right now, I'm hoping for some brainstorming help.

What do you think were the most important political events of the year in Oregon? My initial thoughts...

There are, of course, some obvious ones: The re-election of Governor Kulongoski and the takeover of the Oregon House by the Democrats.

On the governor's race, I'd point more specifically to the disclosure of the Saxtonville migrant labor camp - which some Republicans believe cost Ron Saxton the election. I'd also add the Governor's decision to bring in three heavyweights to his team - Tim Nesbitt, Josh Kardon, and Jim Ross - as a turning point in that campaign.

Looking back to the spring, there's also Kulongoski's huge primary win over challengers Jim Hill and Pete Sorenson, despite lots of early crankiness from the Democratic base. I'd also add Kevin Mannix's loss in the Republican primary; after four straight failed runs for statewide office, I hope we've seen the last of that guy.

Speaking of candidates for Governor, how about the evolution of Ben Westlund from Republican to independent to Democrat? This story isn't over yet, but it was a big one in 2006.

My list certainly includes the election of Ginny Linder to the Supreme Court. In the primary, she beat out the well-funded and respected Gene Hallman and in the general, she beat Jack Roberts -- the very well-funded former Labor Commissioner. I think it also means something that she's the first out lesbian on any state supreme court in American history, and Oregon became the first state with two openly gay justices -- and it wasn't really big news.

Digging into the legislature, there was the hard-fought Minnis/Brading race - more money, more mail, more TV, and more vitriol than has ever been seen in a legislative race in Oregon. Of course, there's also the massive smackdown (61% to 39%) that was Brian Clem's victory over Rep. Billy Dalto in Salem. Has any incumbent legislator ever lost that badly?

Thinking a bit more broadly, you'd have to take note of the rise of a new generation of young legislators in Oregon. Next session, we'll have six new legislators under the age of 35: Sara Gelser, Chris Edwards, Brian Clem, Tobias Read, Tina Kotek, and Ben Cannon.

Over in the State Senate, I'd include the re-election of State Senator Vicki Walker over Eugene Mayor Jim Torrey. Not many folks thought she could pull that off. He didn't win the primary, but I'd have to include Jesse Cornett's seven-week State Senate sprint - that took him from zero to 49% against Rod Monroe, who had won something like 12 elections over 20 years. Hopefully that won't be the last time Jesse runs for office.

Speaking of the legislature, my list of notable events includes the Lobbyist Luau in Maui - and the rise of ethics as a major political concern. Those revelations clearly helped tie the corruption among national Republicans to Oregon Republicans - and helped juice the Democratic takeover. (Acknowledging, of course, that there were some D's involved.)

The loss of right-wing ballot measures on term limits, parental notification, judge districting, taxes, and TABOR was a big story in 2006. While it doesn't appear that Bill Sizemore, Don McIntire, Loren Parks, Jason Williams, and Russ Walker have quite gotten the message yet - 2006 was a tough year, and it might just be a little bit harder for them to raise money next time.

Speaking of ballot measures, the rise of Our Oregon as a permanent umbrella organization pulling together disparate communities to fight bad initiatives bodes well for the future. They were also instrumental in the special session on payday loan reform. It will be interesting to see that happens in 2007 and 2008 - and what progressive legislation and initiatives will be next.

In Portland, you'd have to talk about the first run of the Voter-Owned Elections system in the two city council races. VOE had a few glitches, of course, but it mostly seemed to work -- bringing down the cost of campaigns; reducing fundraising time by candidates; and making campaigns about organizing and message, not money. It would have been nice to see how a run-off election would have worked - but oh well.

Speaking of the Portland City Council, Commissioner Erik Sten's win over Senator Ginny Burdick was a big event. Some might disagree with me, but I think it proves that Portlanders don't just consider themselves social liberals - they also consider themselves grassroots progressives and economic populists. The Sten team successfully made it a campaign about downtown and corporate interests trying to exert power over regular folks - and Portlanders responded by giving Sten a big win.

And finally, there's a handful of 2006 events that will have big implications for 2007 and 2008. I mentioned Ben Westlund's transformation above - but a related one is the convenient change-of-heart from Senator Gordon Smith on the war in Iraq. The echoes will be heard in two years, when the Senator will be fighting for his political life.

National Republicans have been desperately trying to install Jim Feldkamp as the GOP heir-apparent to Congressman Peter DeFazio. But in 2006, Oregonians started learning about Feldkamp's campaign finance shenanigans - magic money that appears and disappears (more on that later) and the convoluted explanations he offers up. Hopefully, 2006 was the last of Jim Feldkamp -- but maybe not.

And speaking of Congress, let's include this: the sudden rise to power of Oregon's Democratic congressional delegation. In addition to all four members gaining influence as part of the new majority, Earl Blumenauer will join on the Ways & Means Committee, Darlene Hooley on the Energy & Commerce.

I'm sure I missed a few big political events, incidents, and trends in 2006. What would you include? When you look back on the year, what makes your list?

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    Oh, and I suppose I should do my full disclosure thing - but it seems silly to name every single client that I mentioned above. Some of the folks up there are clients, many are not. My client list is here. I don't speak for any of them; my opinions are mine, and only mine.

  • anon (unverified)

    The culmination of a decade long Democratic take over of Washington County. In 1996, Deckert picks up a house seat when evil Eileen Qutub moves to the Senate. In 2006, David Edwards picks up the last competitive House seat the Republicans control in Washington County, HD 30, w/ a massive defeat of Everett Curry. Democrats easily fend of challenges in Beaverton and Tigard and Rep. Chuck Riley in Hillsboro beats a well-funded challenge by Terry Rilling.

    Sen. Bruce Starr, SD 15, is the last Republican to hold a competitive legislative seat in the county.

    Rep. Scott Bruun (R), HD 37, has a small bit of Tualatin in Washington County, but the vast majority of his district is in the Clack.

    Ted and ballot measures do very well there.

    Vic Atiyeh pines for the day when moderate Republicans ran the county (and the state)in the O.

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    Specifically I would add the fact that the Minnis camp tried to Swift Boat Brading with the accusation that he supported porn.


  • Coyote (unverified)

    I would ad the victory of Larry George over incumbent Sen. Charles Starr to your list. Starr ad the full force of the lobby and the Senate Republicans working for him and playing some pretty dirty tricks behind the scenes.

    Not the least of which was the letter sent out suggesting that Larry George was backed by the pro-gay political lobby.

  • Dave Lister (unverified)

    How about Kitzhaber's "maybe I will, maybe I won't" stunt effectively keeping Vicki Walker sidelined until too late to mount an effective campaign for governor. I hope she'll be back later, to continue her quest to bust up the Goldschmidt boy's club.

  • pat malach (unverified)

    The first seeds are sewn in Sen. Kari Chisolm's campaign to throw out Gordon Smith.

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    Although I resist this kind of list (important to whom?, as it appears now or based on the effect it will have in 10 years?, etc.), here are a few thoughts:

    • Supreme Court upholds Death with Dignity
    • Oregon Supreme Court upholds M37
    • Emergence of global warming and the environment as major political issues on the heels of Al Gore's movie (and the related state and local efforts to combat it that began in '06)
    • If the shift in power to Dems is a story, the failure of initiatives may also be something to note--including the death of a few treasured radical-right hobby-horses like Tabor and term limits
    • The Iraq war affect all politics, down to city races across the country, and was one of the reasons we saw the success of the Dems
    • It's pretty fresh and so hard to evaluate, but we might be talking about Wyden's health care proposal in a year as the most important political development out of Oregon since Death with Dignity.
  • Kevin (unverified)

    Hmmmm... Top Five in no particular order:

    Kulingoski being re-elected.

    Dems retaking control of house.

    Westlund's political evolution.

    State Supremes upholding M37 (hat tip to Jeff for throwing that one out there)

    The lobbyist luau in Maui

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    I don't know about a top ten list, but the most under reported yet very important story in Oregon is the continued failure of the Democratic Party to reach non-Democratic registered voters in rural areas, especially the Second Congressional District. Carol Voisin did a better than those that ran before her, but the lack of the Democratic Party's interest / investment in finding new support in the Second CD was horrific.

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    Malach, as I told "TomCat" the other day - stop that crazy talk.

  • LT (unverified)

    I agree with Steve about the 2nd District. I would also say that although the Dems captured the House majority, there is a future story building if the question of "target" and "forgotten" districts (esp. when they are in the same county) is not addressed.

    And about "crankiness" Kari mentioned, apparently it is "cranky" for anyone in the "base" (whatever that is--straight party voters? pct. people? people who at some time in their lives have contributed 100-1000 hours of volunteer time?) to expect an incumbent to debate serious challengers more than once, to stand in front of audiences of ordinary folks and answer questions in the primary, to have multiple campaign appearances outside of Portland, to answer questions rather than just giving a speech and leaving......

    I suggest Ted now support some of the best ideas of his primary challengers even though he can't be on the ballot for Gov. again. At the top of the list I would suggest Jim Hill's suggestions for audits of public school district budgets. And if that makes me cranky, I'm cranky. But because I was only registered Dem. for about 4 and a half of the last 10 years, maybe I am not a member of the "base".

    I do live in a legislative district where the margin of victory was less than the number of NAV+ other voters--which in itself should be a top story: how many such districts were there in 2006?

    <h2>I'd also nominate Gilbertson almost defeating Dallum (200 vote margin?) in District 59, and the very interesting Polk results. A friend told me Polk Republicans had a turnout rate of less than 60% according to the County Clerk. But that used to be regarded as a "red" county! Paul Evans came within about 20 votes of carrying the county even though he was deployed on election day.</h2>

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