Democrats lead in most Oregon House, Senate races

Democrats lead in most Oregon House, Senate races
This Feb. 1, 2012, photo shows the Oregon Pioneer statue atop the Oregon State Capitol, in Salem, Ore. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Early election results on Tuesday showed Democrats poised to take control of the Oregon House following two years of an even split between the parties.

Four Democrats in suburban Portland districts were leading Republican incumbents with more than half of the vote tallied. Democrats also were on track to hold onto their 16-14 majority in the state Senate.

Republicans had promised to roll back pension benefits for public employees and create jobs through tax changes and promoting natural resources. Democrats touted infrastructure improvements and job training.

The new Legislature will have to contend with a still-sluggish economy and costs that are growing faster than revenue.

The party that controls a legislative chamber has the power to set the agenda in Salem for the next two years and to block or advance the priorities of the Democratic governor.

All 60 House seats and 15 of the 30 Senate seats were on the ballot. The winners will have to contend with a sluggish economy and costs that are growing faster than revenue.

Republicans have promised to roll back pension benefits for public employees and create jobs through tax changes and promoting development of natural resources. Democrats have said they'll promote jobs by funding infrastructure improvements and job training.

A report of vote tampering by a Clackamas County election worker in the eastern Portland suburbs had the potential to cast doubt on the outcomes of some key races and partisan control of the Legislature, if the results are close and there are a significant number of compromised ballots.

The Secretary of State's Office said investigators had identified six ballots that may have been altered but were still trying to determine exactly how many ballots may have been altered. Potentially tampered ballots would be counted election officials could determine the original voter's intentions.

Despite years of tough budget cuts, there will almost certainly be more trimming as the economy recovers slowly and costs rise faster than state revenue. Decisions about what to keep and what to protect will only get harder.

At the same time, state and local governments will have to sharply increase their employee retirement contributions to make up for a steep shortfall in state pension funds.

Republicans have demanded significant changes to public pension benefits, although state Supreme Court decisions severely limit the options available. Democrats, who often benefit from large contributions from public employee unions, have historically resisted changes to the Public Employees Retirement System.

Gov. John Kitzhaber has convened meetings with unions and business leaders to discuss wholesale changes to the state tax system. Another Kitzhaber panel is studying changes to sentencing laws. Both initiatives could fizzle or result in politically perilous votes for the Legislature.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.