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Oregon Legislature (copy)

The results of primary races could have a big bearing on how the 2019 Legislature operates. 

MOLLY J. SMITH, PROVIDED

An editorial earlier this week examined the Republican gubernatorial race, which has become a compelling battle for the souls of the state's GOP voters.

Now, let's wander over to the other side of the political aisle to take a look at what's simmering on the Democratic side of the ballot. The May 15 primary doesn't have much drama in terms of Democratic statewide races — Gov. Kate Brown faces just token opposition in the primary.

But a look at some of the Democratic races for the Legislature reveals an interesting trend that could reshape the state's politics, as a story this week in The Oregonian explained.

First, a couple of pieces of essential background: Although both chambers of the Oregon Legislature are dominated by Democrats, both are just one vote shy of the supermajority required to push through revenue-raising legislation without a single Republican vote. (Democrats hold a 17-13 edge in the Senate and a 35-25 margin in the House.) Expect Republicans to make an issue of this in the general election, but it doesn't really come into play during the primary.

What is at issue in the primary is what seems to be an increasing gulf between the more liberal House and the somewhat (by Oregon standards) more conservative Senate. It's certainly true that the Senate has been cool to some legislation that has passed the House in recent sessions. In this year's short session, for example, the House approved a complicated greenhouse gas bill, but it didn't get out of the Senate. (You can be sure it will rise again in 2019.)

Since one of the most important functions of a legislative body is to kill bills (and, sometimes, the carnage claims even worthy proposals), we can see the benefit of having a House and Senate that don't always see eye to eye. But, considering the delicate balances in both chambers, a handful of key legislative primary races may have the effect of pulling the Senate in particular (and possibly the House) more to the left side of the political spectrum. 

None of these key races appears to be in the mid-valley. And we'd be surprised if any of the mid-valley legislative races in November produced an upset.

But legislative watchers will be following these races across the state, according to The Oregonian:

• Senate District 24, in East Portland, where incumbent Democrat Rod Monroe faces two challengers, Shemia Fagan and Kayse Jama. The big issue in this race is housing, and Monroe (who was first elected to the Legislature in 1976) is seen as vulnerable in part because he's the owner of an apartment complex and has become entangled in a legal battle with a tenant. If Monroe loses, the Senate could become more receptive to some of the tenants-rights bills that have stalled in recent years.

• Senate District 11 in Salem, where Senate President Peter Courtney is facing a primary challenge for the first time since 1998. Joyce Judy is running because she's frustrated with Courtney's practice of preventing certain bills (such as the greenhouse gas measure) from getting votes in the Senate. This would be a huge upset, though, and here's part of the reason why: Courtney has raised $400,000 for the campaign against Judy's $45,000.

• House District 32, which includes Cannon Beach, features three Democrats vying for an open seat: Tiffiny Mitchell, John Orr and Tim Josi. Josi is the most conservative of the three.

• House District 20 in South Salem, where two Republicans have filed for the right to challenge incumbent Democrat Paul Evans in what could be a potential swing district; Evans eked out a narrow victory two years ago. Selma Pierce, a retired dentist and wife of former gubernatorial candidate Bud Pierce, is battling Kevin Chambers for the GOP nod.

The 2019 legislative session, of course, still is months away. But these four primary races could have a big say in how that session unfolds. (mm)

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