State Democrats seek to expand their reach
SUNRIVER, Ore. — In their first summit since the election, President Donald J. Trump and his administration still loomed large over Oregon Democrats who met in this Central Oregon resort town over the weekend for their biennial gathering.
Trump appears to be motivating Oregon Democrats to action. Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum told summit attendees Saturday that her office has filed suit against the Trump administration seven times.
But many elected officials and others spoke of looking forward to 2018, when they hope to maintain Democrats' grip on Oregon offices and expand the reach of the Democratic Party.
Oregon's approximately 971,000 registered Democrats outnumber Republicans (795,429) by about 264,000, but there's also 795,000 nonaffiliated voters.
Oregon Democrats say that they have an opportunity with the upcoming election to recruit more rural and minority voters to their cause, despite the substantial ideological gap between the state's cities and its more rural areas east of the Cascade mountains.
Most state legislative districts on the east side have generally voted Republican in recent decades.
Democratic party registrations exceed Republicans in two House Districts currently represented by Republicans who are expected to vacate office.
One of the districts spans Multnomah, Clackamas and Hood River counties, where incumbent Mark Johnson will soon leave office to run a business association. Another seat in Deschutes County will be vacated by GOP gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler.
Gov. Kate Brown, in remarks at a reception Friday night, argued that the state could remain a Democratic stronghold, blasting people who think they "can turn Oregon red."
"We know better," Brown, who is running for reelection next year, said. "We aren't going to let that happen, are we?"
But others warned that it will take work.
"We are not taking anything for granted in Oregon," said U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, who noted that in her Northwestern Oregon district, Columbia and Yamhill counties voted for Trump.
Just as the national election prompted soul-searching in the Democratic Party nationally, the 2016 election created divisions among Democrats in Oregon — and not just along the lines of those who supported Democratic Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and those who supported former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Brad Avakian, the state's labor commissioner, who is serving his last term, hinted at divisions within the state's Democrats that emerged in the 2016 race for secretary of state.
The primary pitted three Democrats — Avakian, former state representative and House Majority Leader Val Hoyle, and State Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin — against each other before Avakian clinched the nomination. He lost the general election to Republican Dennis Richardson.
"After you elected me in that primary, it was my responsibility to win that race," Avakian said. "...Regardless of the obstacles we faced, I didn't."
While, Avakian said, the episode "tested (his) notions of friendship and forgiveness," he called on Democrats to work together to achieve their state policy goals, and received a standing ovation in response.
Before the 2018 primary season, though, the next big political battle on the home front will likely be over health care. Oregon voters will weigh in on how the state funds its Medicaid program in a special election Jan. 23.
Ballot Measure 101 asks voters to either affirm or partially repeal the state's plan to fund the Oregon Health Plan — the state's Medicaid program — through assessments on health care providers and insurers.
Democrats and a slew of progressive political organizations support affirming the current plan.
"Yes on Healthcare" organizers have portrayed Measure 101 as a state parallel to Republican efforts in Congress and by the White House to water down or repeal the Affordable Care Act, which allowed states to expand income qualifications for Medicaid and provided federal funding for those populations.
A message of inclusivity was also high on the agenda over the weekend, as speakers led discussions on including people with disabilities and people of color in politics.
"Democrats: We can be more than just a resistance, more than just a line," said Aimee Allison, president of Democracy in Color, an organization that mobilizes voters of color, in a Saturday morning address. "We can be a circle that draws everyone in."