GOP, Dems both hope to break Oregon House deadlock

GOP, Dems both hope to break Oregon House deadlock
In this May 12, 2011, file photo, the Oregon Capitol is shown surrounded by spring blossoms in Salem, Ore. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, file)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Republicans have a chance to snap a two-decade losing streak for Oregon statewide offices and take control of the state House as last-minute voters return their ballots before the deadline Tuesday evening.

Oregon isn't a battleground in the presidential race, there's no election for governor or U.S. senator on the ballot and all five congressional incumbents — four Democrats and Republican Greg Walden — are favored to retain their seats.

But even without a marquee matchup, Oregon voters had important choices to make. Republican Knute Buehler issued a strong challenge against Democratic incumbent Kate Brown in the race for secretary of state, and both parties are trying to gain control of the state House after two years of a 30-30 split.

Voters also will decide on nine ballot measures, including one that would legalize marijuana.

As of Sunday, 50 percent of voters had returned their ballots. It's too late to mail them, but voters had until 8 p.m. Tuesday to drop them off.

Though voters might have a tough time reciting the duties of the secretary of state — registering corporations, applying election laws and auditing government agencies — it's the second-highest elected office in Oregon. The secretary is the first in line to be governor if the chief executive dies or resigns.

Republicans held the post for more than 100 years before losing it in the 1984 election. Democrats have held the job ever since, but Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon from Bend, raised well over $1 million in his bid to deny Brown a second term.

In other races for statewide office, incumbent Treasurer Ted Wheeler and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum were expected to defeat Republican challengers. Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian is trying to fend off Bruce Starr in a contest that is technically nonpartisan.

The ballot measures not only include one to legalize marijuana, but a few that went up in smoke before Election Day.

Two Canadian companies spent millions promoting a pair of measures that would allow a casino east of Portland before suspending their campaign when polls showed the effort was a longshot. Earlier, a recreational fishing group stopped promoting a measure that would ban nontribal fishing with gillnets on the Columbia River. The measures, however, remain on the ballot.

Though Oregon ranks seventh in the nation for marijuana use among people 12 and older, pre-election polls showed the legalization measure failing. Part of the reason is money. While similar efforts in Colorado and Washington have attracted millions in donations, monetary support for the Oregon measure was negligible.

The three tax-related measures on this year's ballot are Measure 79, which would ban taxes on the transfer of real estate; Measure 84, which would nix Oregon's estate tax; and Measure 85, which would eliminate the "corporate kicker."

The kicker is a tax break unique to Oregon. When corporate income tax collections at the end of a two-year budget cycle exceed projections by at least 2 percent, the surplus is returned to corporations. When all other forms of tax revenue exceed their projections, the excess is kicked back to individual taxpayers.

Critics of the kicker complain that it prevents the state from using excess money collected during boom times to help during economic busts.