The Johnson Games

Representative Mark Johnson recently announced that he would be resigning from his position as State Representative in order to take up the job of President and CEO of Oregon Business and Industry, the new business organization formed when Associated Oregon Industries and the Oregon Business Association merged. I am hopeful that Representative Johnson will help bring about a more unified voice for businesses in this state. With such a wide variety of industries and sectors it is easy for the business community to fracture on any number of issues and at times it has led to mixed signals or mealy-mouthed responses when the legislature has approached businesses for their take on policy changes. I am optimistic that Representative Johnson will be a strong voice for business in Oregon, but his resignation presents new challenges for Republicans in Oregon.

With Oregon Democrats only one House seat from being able to raise taxes on a straight party-line vote, every election becomes critical. Johnson has been successful getting reelected in a district whose voter registrations leans Democratic by about 5 points or so, but whoever is chosen to replace Johnson as the Representative for House District 52 will likely face a higher quality better-funded candidate than Johnson would have if he had chosen to stay and face reelection.

So we begin the process of selecting someone to appoint to Mark Johnson’s seat, which I jokingly refer to as “The Johnson Games”. When replacing a member of the legislature Precinct Committee People from that member’s political party vote to put up a slate of candidates to be appointed. That slate then goes to the county commissions that include that legislative district. Votes are weighted based on the population of the county that is included in the legislative district. So in this instance, PCPs from House District 52 will vote to put up a slate of candidates and the County Commissioners from Clackamas, Multnomah, and Hood River counties will make the appointment from members of that slate. While I am not very familiar with the members of the Hood River Commission, the Clackamas and Multnomah commissions are not exactly Republican strongholds these days. The cynic in me thinks they might want to appoint the candidate on the slate least likely to win re-election to the seat, and no one ever went broke being too cynical.

The Precinct Committee People on House District 52 now have a very important responsibility. They need to put forward people who will represent them and their beliefs but also can go out into the community and build strong bonds in a short period of time. Whoever is chosen needs to be able to step into office and hit the ground running in a way that would not be expected of most new members of the legislature. Having briefly interned in Mark Johnson’s office, I know that he puts a lot of effort in maintaining relationships with the people in his district, and the new appointee would do well to learn from Johnson on that.

Best of luck to the PCPs who will soon be making this decision. May the odds be ever in your favor.

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