PORTLAND – Expect a distinctly different flavor from the Oregon Legislature next year.
Democrats were on track to muffle the loud voice that an evenly divided House of Representatives gave Republicans for the past two years.
As election officials continued counting ballots Wednesday, Democrats were on track to pick up four seats for a 34-26 majority in the House. The Democrats’ 16-14 edge in the Senate was unchanged in Tuesday’s election.
If the numbers hold, Republicans will lose the power they had to block Democratic legislation and exert their influence over state budget decisions.
Unions, environmentalists and access to abortion supporters picked up powerful allies. Business interests and critics of government spending could face a tougher environment.
House Democratic leader Tina Kotek, likely the next House speaker, said she wasn’t ready to talk about specific legislation her party will seek, but she offered some clues: affordable housing and more school funding.
“I think they’re going to see a lot of focus on … education, jobs, middle class families,” Kotek said. “That’s the bread and butter that we work on as Democrats.”
The party has pushed to increase state revenue by eliminating a variety of tax rebates.
In the tied House, Republicans used their influence over the budget to advocate spending restraints. They successfully demanded that hundreds of millions of dollars be left unbudgeted in case the economy turned south, refusing to bow to Democratic pleas that much of the cash be sent to schools.
Democrats outnumber Republicans in a majority of state House districts and had the upper hand before anyone even began campaigning. But Republicans hoped they could, at the very least, hold onto the 30-30 split that gave them a seat at the negotiating table and a powerful veto over legislation they didn’t like.
Now, they risk becoming bystanders to the Democratic majority.
Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber will begin the second half of his third term next year, yet he’ll encounter a novel arrangement – he’s never before had a Democratic House and Senate at the same time.