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Could seat flip to Democratic Party after Bill Kennemer's retirement from Oregon House?

This story has been updated.

Speculation has been rampant about which Democrat or Democrats will file for the seat being vacated by State Rep. Bill Kennemer (R-Canby).

Charles GalliaKennemer was widely seen as practically unbeatable in the district, but now there is more potential for the seat to flip. Republican Ken Kraft of Redland is filing for the primary, but no Democrats have stepped forward yet for the primary on the other side of the aisle. It's likely there will be at least one Democrat who will try to step up to try to fill Kennemer's shoes as well. Potential names have surfaced among members of the Canby City Council and on nearby school boards.

House District 39 remains a conservative area, but it's becoming more liberal, where registered Republicans now only outnumber Democrats by 35 to 30 percent. The area includes Barlow, Barton, Beavercreek, Boring, Canby, Carus, Charbonneau, portions of Damascus and Happy Valley, as well as Eagle Creek, Estacada, Fischer Mill, Mulino, Redland and rural Oregon City areas.

With his bipartisan respect and decades of public service as a county commissioner and state legislator, Kennemer has beaten his Democratic opponent for HD39 by more than 15 percentage points, starting with former Oregon City Mayor Alice Norris in 2010. Kennemer barely beat Toby Forsberg in his 2008 House race prior to redistricting, when HD39 included the more liberal areas inside Oregon City.

In 2014, Kennemer ran unopposed in the general election and also ran on the tickets for the Democratic and Independent parties. Charles Gallia, now a Democratic candidate attempting to unseat Sen. Alan Olsen, unsuccessfully ran against Kennemer in 2016.

"Before I ran in 2016, I had a great deal of respect for him, knowing how much of his life he had given to public service, but during the campaign I gained even more respect for him," Gallia said of Kennemer.

Gallia and County Board Chairman Jim Bernard have both said they will not seek the Democratic nomination for HD39 to attempt to flip Kennemer's seat. Bernard recently used his official county-chairman Facebook page to attack Measure 101 petitioner, Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn), in a now-deleted Facebook post.

Olsen represents Kennemer's rural district in the Oregon Senate, along with the urban areas of Oregon City, Gladstone and Oak Grove. Democrats have a registration advantage in the larger Senate District 20, where they now outnumber Republicans by about 30.9 to 32.9 percent.

Gallia said that Kennemer is one of the "old-guard Republicans who thought of the state first" like former U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield, former State Superintendent and Secretary of State Norma Paulus, former Attorney Gen. Dave Frohnmayer and State Superintendent and Sen. Verne Duncan.

"That was the class of statesmen where Kennemer learned his lessons," Gallia said. "It'll be a loss for him to leave the House, but I also understand his reasons for changing his mind about running for re-election."

Prior to filling to run for SD20, Gallia asked whether Kennemer had plans to run for the larger seat.

"When he said he would run again for his House seat in 2018, I was relieved," Gallia said. "He would be really tough to beat for the Senate seat."

This story has been updated from its original version online to say Kennemer has not always beaten his Democratic opponent for HD39 by more than 15 percentage points. Kennemer barely beat Toby Forsberg in his 2008 House race prior to redistricting, when HD39 included the more liberal areas inside Oregon City.

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