Oregonians bucked the national trend on Election Day, with the Oregon AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education (COPE) coming close to an electoral “sweep,” electing or re-electing labor friendly politicians and passing or defeating ballot measures.
Every Democratic incumbent in Congress and the governor’s office won re-election; in fact, not one was even close. Democrats also picked up two more seats in the Oregon Senate and one more seat in the House. That advantage — 18-12 in the Oregon Senate and 35-25 in the Oregon House — will give organized labor a fighting chance of passing pro-worker legislation next year, like raising the minimum wage and guaranteeing the right to sick leave.
One ballot measure that was fiercely opposed by most unions — a “top-two primary” measure sponsored by centrist millionaires and billionaires — went down to defeat by a two-to-one margin, despite outspending opponents by three to one.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the work that union members did, and I hope the Koch brothers and their ilk heard us loud and clear: ‘stay out of Oregon,’” said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain.
Members of AFL-CIO-affiliated unions took part in an eight-region field campaign that spanned from Astoria to Bend to Medford, Chamberlain said.
“We know that the hundreds of thousands of conversations they had with their fellow union members helped pro-worker candidates like Senator Jeff Merkley and Governor John Kitzhaber win, and beat back Measure 90, which would have made it harder for working people to run for office. This field program bucked the national trend, and Oregon will be better for it.”
Voter turnout in Oregon was relatively strong for a midterm election. Out of 2.2 million registered voters in the state, 69.5 percent, or 1.5 million returned ballots. When including eligible voters, however, turnout slipped to 52 percent, according to the United States Election Project.
In Washington, only 51.2 percent of registered voters cast ballots — and only 38.6 percent of eligible voters voted. It was worse nationally, where only 36.6 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. Census numbers from 2010 show that more than 70 million U.S. citizens of voting age are not registered to vote.
What follows is a ballot scorecard:
Jeff Merkley for U.S. Senate. A working class hero is something to be. Merkley, 58, one of labor’s best allies in the Senate, defeated Monica Wehby, a rich doctor and first-time candidate who cribbed even her health care policy proposals from other Republican candidates’ talking points. Merkley won with 56 percent of the vote.
John Kitzhaber for Governor. Kitzhaber, 67, antagonized public employee unions when he led pension cuts that are being challenged in court. But he fought hard for a new I-5 Bridge, and he did broker a deal that kept an anti-union measure off the ballot. And he was better on labor issues than his challenger, conservative Republican state representative Dennis Richardson. Kitzhaber won an unprecedented fourth term with just under 50 percent of the vote.
Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader were re-elected to Congress by wide margins. [Republican Greg Walden was re-elected to Congress in District 2. He was endorsed by the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council, but not by the Oregon AFL-CIO.]
Measure 89, the Equal Rights measure, passed 63.8 percent to 36.2 percent. It amends the state Constitution to guarantee that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the State of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex.”
Measure 90, the top two primary, was defeated 68 percent to 32 percent.
The Oregon AFL-CIO missed on Measure 88, the driver card for immigrants. It was defeated, 66.4 percent to 33.6 percent.
One of labor’s highest priority races was in state Senate District 8, where labor-endorsed Democrat Sara Gelser of Corvallis unseated Republican incumbent Betsy Close of Albany. Close was appointed to the Senate seat in 2012 to succeed moderate Republican Frank Morse, who stepped down mid-term. Prior to that Close served in the state House from 1999 to 2005. Gelser, who has served as a state representative for District 16 since 2005, won handily, capturing 56 percent of the vote.
In another priority race in the Senate, the AFL-CIO helped re-elect Alan Bates in District 3, Medford. The race was a re-match from 2010, pitting Bates, an osteopathic physician who has represented the Southern Oregon district since 2004, against Republican challenger Dave Dotterrer, a retired Marine Corps colonel. In 2010 Bates was re-elected by fewer than 300 votes. On Nov. 4 he won by more than 3,700 votes.
Other labor-backed senators included Floyd Prozanski in District 4, Eugene; Lee Beyer in District 6, Springfield; Chris Edwards in District 7, Eugene; Peter Courtney in District 11, Salem; Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward in District 17, Northwest Portland; Michael Dembrow in District 23, Portland; and Rod Monroe in District 24, Portland.
Two union-endorsed challengers — Jamie Damon in District 20, Oregon City, and Robert Bruce in District 26, Hood River County — fell short in their Senate races. Damon, a former Clackamas County commissioner, was a priority race for labor. But she faced an uphill battle against first-term Republican Alan Olsen. That’s because redistricting by the Legislature in 2011 gave Republicans the advantage in District 20 based on voter registration.
The Oregon AFL-CIO backed 32 winners in the Oregon House of Representatives. Top priority races were Democrats Joe Gallegos in District 30, Hillsboro; Brent Barton in District 40, Oregon City; and Shemia Fagan in District 51, East Portland. All won by comfortable margins.
Other labor-endorsed winners were Democrats Caddy McKeown in District 9, Coos Bay; David Gomberg in District 10, Lincoln City; Phil Barnhart in District 11, Eugene; John Lively in District 12, Springfield; Nancy Nathanson in District 13, Eugene; Val Hoyle in District 14, Eugene; Dan Rayfield in District 16, Corvallis; Paul Evans in District 20, Monmouth; Betty Komp in District 22, Woodburn; Tobias Read in District 27, Beaverton; Jeff Barker in District 28, Aloha; Susan McLain in District 29, Hillsboro; Brad Witt in District 31, Clatskanie; Mitch Greenlick in District 33, Portland; Ken Helm in District 34, Beaverton; Margaret Doherty in District 35, Tigard; Jennifer Williamson in District 36, Portland; Ann Lininger in District 38, Lake Oswego; Kathleen Taylor in District 41, Milwaukie; Rob Nosse in District 42, Portland; Lew Frederick in District 43, Portland; Tina Kotek in District 44, Portland; Barbara Smith Warner in District 45, Portland; Jessica Vega Pederson in District 47, East Portland; Jeff Reardon in District 48, Southeast Portland; Chris Gorsek in District 49, Troutdale; Carla Piluso in District 50, Gresham; and Republican Greg Smith in District 57, Heppner.
Three incumbent legislators who were re-elected had conditional endorsements from the AFL-CIO. That’s because none of them completed a policy questionnaire, which is a required part of the endorsement process. They were Democratic Rep. Brian Clem in District 21, Salem; Republican Rep. John Huffman in District 59, The Dalles; and Democratic state Sen. Betsy Johnson in District 16, Scappoose.
Union-endorsed candidates who lost Nov. 4 included Sign Painters and Paint Makers Local 1094 member Scott Mills, running against a Republican incumbent in House District 18, Aurora; Independent candidate Chuck Lee in District 25, Keizer; Stephanie Nystrom in District 52, Hood River; and Craig Wilhelm in District 54, Bend.
Several union activists were among the endorsed winners Nov. 4, including Dembrow, Barker, McLain, Witt, Nosse and Gorsek.