Oregon State House of Representatives incumbent Mark Johnson, (R-District 52) of Hood River, will be headed back to Salem for another term, thanks to a successful, yet close run against Democratic opponent Peter Nordbye.
The two candidates offered some insights on the road ahead.
“This is going to be markedly different this time,” said Johnson. “The balance of power has changed in the house and it will be different legislating from a minority status rather than the 50/50 split we had last session. There are questions about how someone like me in the minority will be effective.”
Johnson noted that while he remains committed to his previous work on the state’s education committee, he may not be offered the option to return to that work.
“There is no guarantee that I’ll be part of an education committee. Even if you have a passion or experience, it doesn’t mean you will be given the position,” said Johnson. Committee assignments will be determined by the democratic majority and will be announced in mid-December.
Whether Johnson continues as an official committee member, he remains focused on the increasing challenges facing Oregon schools.
“We need to address the whole PERS situation – which continues to be a deterrent to implementing our good public policies on education. If we don’t address it directly very little will come of the reforms and policies put into place in the last session,” said Johnson.
The projected increase in Public Employee Retirement System rates, are significantly impacting school budgets across the state and are tied to the un-funded, growing liability of retiree benefit projections. That growing cost means that every school district has put more money into PERS taking away from resources for teachers, students and classrooms.
“The question is whether the legislature really serious and ready to take this on. The governor is going to have to take strong leadership on this issue,” said Johnson.
“There is no additional revenue to put into the system, and it is going to come down to making modifications or finding efficiencies elsewhere,” said Johnson, who noted that the Republican caucus has several bills “ready to go” that propose modifications to the PERS system.
“We are having those reviewed by our legal department, but are we going to be able to have those bills heard?” added Johnson. “Whether this issue will get addressed remains to be seen.”
When asked if he thought school districts had any ability to make more cuts to find revenue, Johnson said: “I agree they’ve cut as much as they can cut. There is no more ‘fat’ to be cut. We are already cutting flesh and bone.” Johnson notes he plans to reintroduce a bill to allow school districts to contract out non-teacher services.
Peter Nordbye, a retired school administrator from Brightwood, waged a very close race with Johnson, netting 13,049 votes district-wide against Johnson’s 14,026, an unusual showing as a virtual unknown. Nordbye actually won in Hood River County, netting 493 votes more than Johnson, who hales from Hood River.
Nordbye ran on a campaign finance reform platform, insisting on taking race money only from donors who lived in the district and limiting contributions to $50 or less.
“There is real concern about the impact of all this campaign money. We don’t have enough money for schools and kids are going hungry every night, but we pour money into these elections. I’d like to see more money poured into our communities.”
Nordbye’s campaign spent just $15,179 over the 2012 election cycle. Johnson’s campaign spent $189,240.
“So much money is being spent it is overwhelming the campaigns. The money overwhelms all of the issues,” noted Nordbye, who hasn’t ruled out a run in the next election cycle.
“I think the ultimate success in campaign finance reform comes when voters make decisions to vote for candidates who are not financed with large amounts of money from out of district donors. We need to get it under control.
“I just want to thank the Hood River Democrats and citizens of Hood River who rallied behind the campaign – they were absolutely amazing and really worked hard,” Nordbye said.