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Timely moves set up races

4 Democrats switch districts just before filing for state House
by: L.E. BASKOW, Jefferson Smith is one of four local Democrats to move into new districts just before declaring for seats in the Oregon House.

After the Civil War, Northerners flocked to the South to help govern the war-torn society, lugging belongings in handbags fashioned from carpet. And they weren’t especially popular with the locals. Now there’s a new wave of carpetbagging in Portland. In the weeks before last November’s deadline to establish residency, four local Democrats packed their belongings and moved their residences to more suburban districts, then filed to run for state House of Representatives seats in their new neighborhoods. Three of the races were wide open after incumbents declined to seek re-election. Three of the four Democrats are lawyers, two from the same Portland law firm. “I’ve never heard of this many people moving and running in the past,” said Cathy Shaw, a Demo-cratic political consultant from Ashland and author of a textbook for campaign managers in local races. Republicans say it’s vital to have elected leaders with deep roots in the communities they serve. It’s an insult to voters to suggest there’s nobody good enough inside their district to run, said House Republican Leader Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg. Democrats say the four candidates have solid connections to their new districts and will serve citizens well. “I think people are much more interested in how they’re going to represent their district in Salem,” said House Majority Leader Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone. The unusual number of carpetbaggers may be a sign of Portland’s growing clout in the Legislature, and the ability of local candidates to shape policies that make a difference in Salem. The most prominent of the foursome is Oregon Bus Project director Jefferson Smith, who works to mobilize young voters. The Harvard Law grad, who attended Grant High School, moved from Northeast Portland to the blue-collar east Portland neighborhood near David Douglas High School, after incumbent Rep. Jeff Merkley opted to run for the U.S. Senate. Smith’s connection to the district comes from his fiancée, who grew up in the neighborhood. Chris Garrett, an attorney at Portland’s Perkins Coie law firm, moved from Southeast Portland to Lake Oswego. He’s running for the seat being vacated by State Rep. Greg Macpherson, who’s running for Oregon attorney general. Garrett grew up in the Southwest Portland segment of the district and attended Wilson High School. Brent Barton, a friend of Garrett’s and a co-worker at Perkins Coie, moved from Northwest Portland to Clackamas. He’s trying to unseat the Republican incumbent, Rep. Linda Flores. Toby Forsberg may boast the strongest current ties to his district among the four. Forsberg, who went to Gladstone High, moved last fall from Milwaukie to Oregon City. He works in Oregon City as Clackamas County’s marketing coordinator and is the former head of the Oregon City Chamber of Commerce and a board member of the Oregon City Schools Foundation. The Oregon Constitution requires legislative candidates to live in their districts at least one year before the election. The four candidates moved during the weeks preceding the Nov. 4 cutoff, though each denies they moved solely to run for office. Possible campaign issue Republicans intend to make a campaign issue of the candidate relocations. “We want our representatives to be part of our community, because we are a citizens’ Legislature,” said Vance Day, Oregon Republican Party chairman. “They’re really not part of the community. Therefore, I think the voters need to be aware of that.” But past practice shows the strategy may not work. Charges of carpetbagging didn’t stop prominent members of the Kennedy and Clinton clans from winning office in newly adopted states. Macpherson relocated to Lake Oswego from Portland before winning his first Oregon House race. “In each and every area, the people will assess the candidates on their own merits,” Shaw said. The four candidates who moved appear to have solid credentials, she said, and “we really need the best of the best right now.” Hunt said all four are “reclaiming roots” in their new districts. Smith said he moved to the David Douglas area partly because his fiancée hailed from there, and because it was a place where they could afford to buy a house. Smith said he has a strong belief in public service, and his new community, with its high poverty rate, seemed an important place to serve. “I do think a lot of that requires a commitment to a place,” and he has that, Smith said. Garrett said it’s legitimate for voters to question someone moving into a community to run for office, but that’s not the case with him. “This community is always the community I considered home,” he said. His parents still live in the district, and he once managed a House campaign in the district for Tualatin Democrat Richard Devlin, now in the state Senate. “I know the district intimately,” he said. Barton, also a Harvard Law grad, said if he was trying to move somewhere just to gain office, he wouldn’t have chosen a Republican-leaning district with a sitting incumbent. “If you’re going just to run for an office, you want to move to a place where the Democrats always win,” he said. Barton, who grew up in Newport, said his father attended school in his new district, and his father and grandfather were loggers in the area. He has already knocked on 1,000 doors in his campaign. “I feel I both know and understand my community,” he said. “I’m an Oregon native. I feel like I get it.” Democratic leader pleased Forsberg said he planned to move to Oregon City in a couple of years, and sped that up when Rep. Wayne Scott, the House Republican leader from Canby, opted not to run again. Forsberg and his wife picked their neighborhood partly so their son can attend an elementary school that has a Spanish immersion program, he said. After working in Oregon City for several years, Forsberg said, “I know this district better than any other district in the world.” The four newcomers may speak more to changes in the Legislature than to any carpetbagging trend. In recent years, leaders of both parties have complained that it’s difficult to recruit legislative candidates because of demanding hours and travel, low pay, and a soured atmosphere in Salem. Republicans haven’t found viable candidates for several seats this year, including key swing seats that are usually fiercely contested. Hunt, on the other hand, is encouraged that three Portland lawyers and a former chamber of commerce leader want to run. “It’s probably a testament to the new direction of the House,” Hunt said. The new leftward direction, with Democrats firmly in control, gives Portland Democrats far more influence than they had when the Legislature was dominated by conservative Republicans from rural and suburban districts. 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