Agricultural PACs commit more funds to pivotal races
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- The big questions in Oregon politics entering the Nov. 6 general election are which party will gain control of the evenly split state House of Representatives and whether Republicans can gain ground in the Senate.
Several House seats appear up for grabs, observers say, including the one representing District 22 in the Willamette Valley, where four-term-incumbent Betty Komp, D-Woodburn, is facing Brooks nursery farmer Kathy LeCompte.
In 2010, Komp beat LeCompte by 623 votes.
Business organizations, including agricultural political action committees, are pumping more funds into the race this time in hopes of unseating the Democrat, said Katie Fast, director of government affairs for the Farm Bureau.
"Kathy has the knowledge and experience to be one of the top advocates for agriculture in the Capitol," Fast said.
As of Sept. 26, the Oregon Farm Bureau PAC had contributed $7,500 to LeCompte's campaign, up significantly from the 2010 contribution, Fast said. Oregon AgPAC had contributed $2,000, but planned to meet Oct. 1 to consider adding to that.
Also Oregon Nurseries PAC had contributed $2,000. And the Oregon Victory Alliance PAC, an organization of business interests that includes some timber companies, had contributed $10,000 to LeCompte.
Despite this, Komp holds a more than 2-to-1 advantage, showing $116,479 in campaign contributions between Jan. 1 and Sept. 26, compared to $54,290 for LeCompte, according to information filed with the secretary of state's office.
Other House seats held by Democrats that could swing Republican include those vacated by five-term incumbents Dave Hunt of Gladstone and Terry Beyer of Springfield, Fast said. Both opted not to seek re-election.
Running to replace Hunt are Republican Steve Newgard, a small-business owner from Milwaukie, and Democrat Brent Barton, a former state representative from Clackamas.
Vying for Beyer's seat are Republican Joe Pishioneri, a Lane County deputy sheriff and Springfield city councilor, and Democrat John Lively, a former Springfield mayor.
Business lobbyists fear that some seats could swing from Republican to Democrat, including those held by first-term Reps. Shawn Lindsay of Hillsboro, Patrick Sheehan of Clackamas, Matthew Wand of Troutdale and Katie Eyre Brewer of Hillsboro.
"I think they can win their races," said Paulette Pyle of Oregonians for Food and Shelter, an agricultural and forestry advocate. "But any Republican in the Portland metro area is vulnerable, and we're staying vigilant and giving them as much support as we can."
"I think most of them will come back, because they all did a relatively good job," said Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries.
"I haven't seen any make critical mistakes," Stone said. "They all received our endorsement."
Republicans gained six seats in the House in 2010, moving from a 36-24 deficit in the 2009 legislative session to the 30-30 tie in the 2011 and 2012 sessions.
Odds of the Republicans wresting control of the Senate, where Democrats hold a 16-14 advantage, are a little longer than in the House, Pyle said, but OFS is doing what it can to gain at least a split.
Among races worth watching: Rep. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, and Republican Scott Roberts, a North Bend surgeon are vying for the seat being vacated by Sen. Joanne Verger, D-Coos Bay.
Verger, a two-term senator who also served two terms in the House, opted not to seek re-election.
Also, Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, has a race on her hands against the Republican challenger, Gresham dentist Scott Hansen, according to Fast and Pyle.
"I think we can pick up one and maybe two seats (in the Senate)," Pyle said.
Among statewide races that bear watching is the race for secretary of state between incumbent Kate Brown, a Democrat, and Republican Knute Buehler, a surgeon and Rhodes scholar from Bend.
Also, current Labor Commission Brad Avakian has a legitimate challenge from Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, for his seat, Fast said.
Oregon ballots will be mailed between Oct. 19 and Oct. 23. They are due at county election offices or designated drop sites by 8 p.m. Nov. 6.