By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
PORTLAND — The Republican appointment to replace a long-time state Senator who abruptly resigned this week ultimately will land in the hands of Democrats.
Oregon law requires that the county commissioners in the district of the vacated seat — District 8 — to decide who will fill the seat from at least three candidates nominated by the Republican Party. In the case of Frank Morse’s seat — the decade-long serving Republican senator who resigned Monday — half of those commissioners are Democrats.
“We will be watching the county commissioners very closely to make sure that they make choices which are motivated by high standard of public service and not by political considerations,” Executive Director of the Oregon Republican Party Greg Leo said.
Morse announced his resignation Friday, shocking lawmakers after serving as a lawmaker well-liked on both sides of the aisle since 2002.
In his statement, Morse said he’s lost the energy needed to fight to improve Oregon’s economic future. He said it was time for someone else to take the reins, though his term does not expire until 2014. His resignation was effective Monday.
Republicans in the Benton and Linn counties that make up District 8 are scrambling to find a replacement by the 30 day time frame. The state GOP is in charge of candidate filing, which will take place until Sept. 28.
Candidates, who must have been a registered Republican for 180 days and resided in the district for at least a year, will be able to lobby precinct members in the district who will make nominations during a party convention in Corvallis on Oct. 2, Leo said. The party must submit at least three and no more than five nominations to the Benton and Linn County commissioners.
Because Benton has more registered voters in the district, the three Democratic commissioners’ votes will count more than three Republican commissioners from Linn County, according to state law. The exact make up of the votes is still being determined by the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office.
Jay Dixon, Benton County Commissioners chairman, said commissioners likely will focus on voting for someone moderate like Morse.
“I don’t think we’re that politically inclined,” he said. “We want to do what’s best for Benton County.”
He said the commissioners do have the option of choosing no one from the nomination list and sending it to the governor to decide, but said that was unlikely to happen.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll vote on the list,” Dixon said.
Vice Chairman of the Linn County Commissioners John Lindsey said he doesn’t think the politics of the county boards will be an issue.
“You have to remember, the only names you can choose from are what the party puts forward,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a screaming concern.”
Lindsey, who has served 14 years on the county board and has been involved with six public appointments to the Legislature, said although the Benton commission is made up of Democrats ultimately they are at the will of what their constituents want.
“They have to look at it a bit level-headed,” he said. “You don’t want to upset a portion of your county.”
Who fills that seat will be vital for Republicans, as the majority of the district now is filled with registered Democrats. As of August, District 8 had 27,455 registered Democrats and 20,977 Republicans, as well as 14,740 non-affiliated voters, 56 constitution and 2,658 independents, according to voter registration records from the Secretary of State’s office.
“It is a very important seat, even though it’s midterm right now, that Republicans need to keep,” Leo said. “In terms of the general qualities that I think the party is looking for are really very much like Senator Morse. He represents the highest standard of what we are proud to see in a legislator.”
Trent Lutz, executive director of the Oregon Democratic Party, said Morse was well respected by both parties and someone who fit the district, which is “a blue seat, to use that kind of nomenclature.”
“I think that 2014 is a long time for now and anybody who gets put in that seat, their record will be examined by the voters,” Luz said.
Jim Vause, vice president of the Linn County Republicans, said the party will be looking for someone who “wears a Republican badge.”
“Morse was kind of middle of the road,” he said. “If we could find somebody that could fill his shoes in that perspective and maybe a little bit more conservative, that would be great.”
No one is floating possible names yet, but Leo said there has been a lot of interest in the seat. The commissioners from Linn and Benton will hold a joint meeting after Oct. 7 (it hasn’t been scheduled yet) to vote on the nominations.
John Bell, chairman of the Republican Party in Benton, said in the end the party will hope to find someone willing to go after reforming Oregon’s financial structure.
“Oregon really needs that,” he said. “I think there is a concern that regardless of who the individual is that replaces Frank, that we will be able to stabilize the financial status of the state of Oregon.”