Bruce McCain: Getting Over the Oregon Blues

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by Bruce McCain  [Also cross posted at The Northwest Connection]
Blue Oregon is more than just a political website popular with like-minded liberal lefties. It accurately describes the current political status in one of most Blue states in America. Yet many Oregonians may not grasp the extent and depth of what one-party Democratic rule has done to this state over the past three decades. So just how Blue is Oregon in November 2010?
Oregon’s current seven-member congressional delegation consists of two Democratic senators and four (of five) Democratic representatives. The 1st and 4th congressional districts have been Democratic since 1975. 

The 3rd district, dominated by Portland and Multnomah County, has not elected a Republican since 1955.

At the state level, Democrats own a super-majority in both the Oregon House and Senate. The last Portland resident elected as a Republican state legislator was John Minnis in 1991. In 2008 Democrats pushed Republicans completely out of east Multnomah County to beyond Hood River. Since 2006 metro area Democrats have expanded their legislative reach in suburban Clackamas and Washington counties.
Every state-wide office is currently held by a Democrat. The last three attorneys general and last four state treasurers have been Democrats. Only one Republican (Jack Roberts) has been elected labor commissioner in the past half century. The Secretary of State, which oversees elections, has been held by Democrats since 1985. And of course, Democratic governors have occupied Mahonia Hall for 24 consecutive years.
Democratic one-party rule is not limited to the legislative and executive branches. Under Article V of the Oregon Constitution, the governor has sole authority to appoint judges to fill judicial vacancies at both trial and appellate levels. Under our federal system, the president nominates a candidate, which the senate must confirm. But under our state system, the governor does not merely nominate a judge; the governor makes the direct appointment, which is not subject to any legislative confirmation.
As a result of 24 consecutive years of Democratic governors, Oregon’s judicial branch is populated by dozens of judges who got their start as Democratic appointees to elective offices that are almost never contested. For example, all seven Oregon Supreme Court justices must run for re-election as nonpartisan candidates. As of January 2011, every member of the Oregon Supreme Court was originally appointed to their appellate position by Democratic governors Goldschmidt, Roberts, Kitzhaber and Kulongoski. Thus the last four Democratic governors have literally hand-picked every Oregon Supreme Court justice with no legislative confirmation.
Besides judicial appointments, Oregon’s governor also makes direct executive appointments to over 220 boards and commissions. Heads of administrative agencies, other than those headed by other elected officials, are likewise filled by gubernatorial appointments. The constitutional gubernatorial appointment authority is a critical, but all-but-ignored reason why Oregonians need to break one-party rule in the executive branch. Another four years of one-party governance equals four more years of Democratic judicial and commission appointments.
Democratic one-party domination also extends to regional and local governments, particularly in the greater Portland metro area. All five of Multnomah County’s nominally nonpartisan commissioners are and have been liberal Democrats for decades. Many of those county commissioners began in the state legislature before seeking political promotion to the Portland city council, long dominated by the Portland liberal Democratic base. Democrats also control the county commissions of suburban Clackamas and Washington counties, which have slowly become more like Portland than Pendleton – particularly since 2006.
Democratic one-party rule in Oregon has resulted in near total domination of all three branches of state government – including state administrative agencies – as well as control of the county commissions, city councils and regional bodies serving a majority of Oregonians. Often, these career Democrats simply recycle from one job to another. The current Secretary of State (Kate Brown), BOLI Commissioner (Brad Avakian) and Superintendent of Public Instruction (Susan Castillo) are all former Democratic state senators. Governor Ted Kulongoski has served as a state legislator, attorney general, insurance commissioner, and Oregon Supreme Court justice
A generation of one-party Democratic domination is enough to make some conservatives see red or slip into a deep blue funk. But if the November 2010 election shows anything, it’s that there has never been a better opportunity to begin to reverse that long-term trend. But that will have to wait until after November 2 when we look at: Purple Oregon – Within Reach?
Bruce R McCain LLC
Bruce McCain is an attorney in private practice and former Multnomah County Sheriff’s Captain. He writes for The Northwest Connection and is a new blogger for the Victoria Taft blog.

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