Ouster of Rep. Vial hurts all of Oregon
One of the biggest surprises in the November general election was the ouster of State Rep. Rich Vial in House District 26, which includes Wilsonville and Sherwood.
The race is important for three reasons.
First, Vial was among the last of the old-school Oregon Republicans: a genus that used to be prevalent in the state but today is in short supply. He's fiscally conservative but mostly avoided the socially conservative issues that divide our nation.
He was a rookie in the House and, when he took office in January 2017, a reporter from Pamplin Media Group contacted him and asked his opinion about transportation (he was the new guy on the House Committee on Transportation Policy). Vial declined to answer the question, saying, "Hey, I'm new. Do you mind if I take a day to research that issue? Also, I want to check with my committee chair."
His committee chair was a Democrat.
That measured, non-partisan, get-it-right style of communication was one of the finest, most principled answers we'd received from an officeholder in ages. He'd only been a legislator for about a week, and PMG pegged him as a potential rookie of the year.
Not to brag, but we were right.
Vial went on to be chief sponsor of legislation to raise Oregon's legal age for the purchase and use of tobacco, making him a favorite of the public health advocates.
He voted to close Oregon's "boyfriend loophole," which prevents domestic abusers from owning firearms. Traditional thinking is that only a tough, longstanding and senior lawmaker like Sen. Brian Boquist, Senate District 12 (just to the west of Vial's district) would have the steel to stand up to the National Rifle Association like that. Turns out, Vial was made of that sterner stuff, too.
Upon realizing he'd lost, Vial turned to Facebook the day after the election and praised his opponent, Democrat Courtney Neron. "She's conducted herself with honor and integrity in the campaign process, and I'm sure she'll carry those same qualities with her to the Legislature," he wrote.
Decades ago, Oregon was famous for pragmatic, consensus-building Republicans like Mark O. Hatfield and Tom McCall, and legislators like Tony Van Vliet and Lane Shetterly. Rich Vial is one of that breed. They made civility the hallmark of their work. That wing of the party is less prevalent today.
The second reason the loss is important is that it marks one of the last hurrahs for Republican domination in Washington and Clackamas counties. Not too many years ago, Washington County was deep red, sending such far-right Republicans as Charles Starr and Eileen Qutub to the Legislature. Compare them to moderate Republicans from this area like Tom Brian, Paul Phillips and Mary Alice Ford.
The above-listed moderates were part of a county that had turned "purple," a blend of Democrats and Republicans.
Today, Washington County appears to be a deep "blue" rampart of the Democratically controlled Portland metro area.
Of the House members that PMG covered last year, all were Democrats but two: Vial and Rep. Julie Parrish, who represents Tualatin and West Linn.
And both of them lost re-election last week.
Third, the losses of Vial and Parrish gives the Democrats a supermajority of 38 to 22 in the Oregon House. A supermajority means the Dems won't need any help from their Republican cohorts to pass revenue-raising measures.
And we're not sure that's such a good thing.
Gov. Kate Brown won her last election and has four years to polish her legacy as leader of Oregon. She'll do it, at least in 2019, with supermajorities in the House and Senate. She won't need to be bipartisan.
She should be.
The most lasting changes in politics are those that are crafted from the middle. In which both parties give up something, and don't allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. We don't yet know what Brown's legacy will be. But we suspect it would have the resilience to last the ages if it's crafted with some level of Republican support, and some staunch Republican opposition when needed.
The kind of pragmatic opposition that could have been led by, say, a Rich Vial.