The Stakes Are High for Oregon in 2018

From the news in the legislature, it seems like we are going to limp along with a series of band-aid solutions instead of making any major substantive reforms to our tax code or our public pension system. Governor Brown and other Democrats have signaled that they plan to revisit new taxes in the 2019 session, so the stakes will be high for 2018.

Currently, the Democrats are one seat short in each chamber of the 3/5th necessary to raise taxes. With a large ballot measure fight over a tax package is a definite possibility, the Democrats have shown little regard for what the voters say at the ballot if it goes against their ultimate ends. Spending millions of dollars fighting a tax at the ballot will mean nothing if we don’t protect our flank in the legislature. In an off year cycle with a sitting Republican President, all Democrats need to do is pick up one seat in each chamber of the house and they will be able to pass whatever tax increase they can get their caucuses on board with.

Unfortunately, the 2018 Senate map looks pretty ugly. There MIGHT be some long shot pick up opportunities with Senate District 6 Lee Beyer, Senate District 8 Sara Gelser, Senate District 11 Peter Courtney, and Senate District 15 Chuck Riley. Unfortunately all of these seats sport larger than a 10% Democratic voter registration edge. The only Democratic Senate seat up in 2018 that has less than a 10% Democratic edge is Senate District 16 Betsy Johnson, who votes with Republicans on enough key issues that any substantial challenge would be counter productive. MAYBE if you found a well-funded candidate who was something akin to the Second Coming you might be able to unseat a Democratic Senator, but from what I can tell, the Senate Republicans going on offense would be akin to lighting a giant pile of money on fire and dancing around it.

Senate Republicans would be better served focusing on defending their people. Democrats are expected to come hard after Alan DeBoer in SD 3, as he only won his last election by a few hundred votes. The Democrats are also likely to go after Senator Alan Olsen and Senator Chuck Thomsen as well, as they are both Republicans in seats that lean Democratic. The bottom line is that the chance for a pickup in the Senate is very bleak, and the threats to sitting Republicans are real. I am more optimistic than most conservatives in Oregon, but if you are hanging your 2018 hopes on Republican victories on the Senate side, I am sad to tell you that the numbers just aren’t there.

On the House side, we have another problem. When Knute Buehler makes his run for Governor is it almost a certainty that his House seat over in Bend will fall to the Democrats. The seat is already the deepest blue seat in the House held by a Republican. It is very unlikely that a candidate without Buehler’s independent brand and fundraising prowess would be able to even seriously contend for the seat that has been moving farther and farther to the left over the years.

So if we assume Buehler’s seat will go to the Democrats, Republicans automatically need to pick off a sitting Democrat if they want to prevent the Ds from getting the 3/5ths needed to raise taxes.

The stakes are high in 2018. The lack of any substantive changes to our spending or tax structures makes a ballot measure fight very likely. It is tempting to put effort and resources into fighting bad ballot measures, but if we take our eyes off the ball in the legislature it could be our doom.

Jacob Vandever is political activist, lifelong Oregonian, and proud Oregon State graduate. Jacob is the Editor of the Oregon Upstart Blog.