Four farmers seek roles in legislative power shift
Candidates pledge to bring lessons from business, agriculture to state government
By MITCH LIES
In the 1994 Oregon mid-term elections, then Senate President John Kitzhaber was running on the Democratic ticket for governor.
Kitzhaber won the race and served two terms as governor. But voter unrest that year helped Republicans pick up one seat in the House and five in the Senate, where they turned a 16-14 disadvantage to a 19-11 advantage.
Fast forward to 2010: Kitzhaber again is running for governor. And, once again, voter unrest threatens to shift the balance of power in the Legislature.
While few believe the shift will be as dramatic as in 1994, most believe Democrats will be hard pressed come Nov. 2 to maintain their super majority in both Oregon houses. Some believe Republicans could even take control of the House, where Democrats have a 36-24 advantage.
Four farmers could play parts in this projected power shift.
In Senate District 26, Hood River County commissioner and fourth-generation orchardist Chuck Thomsen is in a close race with Democrat attorney Brent Barton to replace Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, who is not running for re-election.
In House District 22, Brooks, Ore., nursery owner Kathy LeCompte is running against incumbent Betty Komp, D-Woodburn.
In House District 11, Pleasant Hill, Ore., farmer and small-business owner Kelly Lovelace is up against incumbent Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene.
And in House District 24, Dundee, Ore., vintner Susan Sokol Blosser is running against incumbent Jim Weidner, R-McMinnville, in a rare race where a Democrat could replace a sitting Republican.
Thomsen, 53, said he's been asked several times to run for the Oregon Legislature, but balked until this year.
"It was just a timing thing with me," Thomsen said.
With legislators "making poor choices" and his two girls out of the house, the time was right to run, he said.
"Someone has to run who is willing to make the tough choices," Thomsen said.
As a commissioner, Thomsen said he has been forced to slash his county's budget in recent years.
"Then I watched as the state didn't react to the economy, continued to grow, continued to increase taxes," he said.
Thomsen said he'll work to increase jobs, and better utilize Oregon's natural resources. Among ideas for jobs, he's looking to expand or create enterprise zones, increase some payroll tax deductions and reduce regulations to position Oregon as business friendly.
Brooks Tree Farm owner Kathy LeCompte said that when lawmakers raised taxes based on gross receipts last session -- a bill that resulted in Measure 67 -- she decided to challenge Rep. Betty Komp, D-Woodburn, in House District 22.
"That was the trigger," she said.
LeCompte, 55, said the bill, House Bill 3405, was emblematic of a Legislature operating outside the bounds of common sense.
"We need local jobs and a stronger economy, not higher taxes and job-strangling regulations," LeCompte said.
LeCompte wants minimum wage increases tied to local conditions and not the urban consumer price index.
"I would much prefer to stay home and run my business," LeCompte said, "but I am deeply concerned about the direction of our state and our country in general."
Lovelace, 61, describes himself as an "average guy" who has grown frustrated with occurrences in Salem.
"Oregon's budget in the last 10 years has increased from $30 billion to $60 billion," Lovelace said. "And we're still spending more money than we're taking in.
"We're in trouble right now. We've got to quit spending. We're choking our economy with taxes and fees," he said.
Lovelace advocates reducing regulations that inhibit job growth.
"We're continuing to put regulation on top of regulation," He said. "If you own or are thinking about starting a business -- everything you do there is another fee on it, there is another restriction on it.
"Government needs to get out of the way," he said.
Like Thomsen, winery owner Susan Sokol Blosser, 65, has been asked several times to run for elected office.
She threw her hat in the ring this year, declaring, "I am deeply distressed by the economic crisis we're in.
"And, when I started to think about it, I thought business and agriculture are sorely under-represented in the Legislature," she said.
Sokol Blosser started Sokol Blosser Winery with her then husband, Bill, in 1971 and was president of the winery from 1991 to 2008, when she retired.
"I'm ready to bring the experience and wisdom I've gained from so many years of farming and business to move Oregon forward," Sokol Blosser said on her website.
Sokol Blosser is the sole farmer among the four featured here not endorsed by the Oregon Farm Bureau.