With all the cash flowing into campaign coffers now that political season is finally upon us, a $500 contribution hardly rates a second look—except when the donor is a Democratic governor and the recipient is a Republican member of the House, State Rep. Mark Johnson (R-Hood River).
Johnson, a building contractor and member of the Hood River School Board, has worked closely with Gov. John Kitzhaber on education reform. Last week, the two men helped dedicate a new high school in Sandy, which is in Johnson's district.
Kitzhaber's only other contribution to a House member so far this year was $750 to State Rep. Betty Komp (D-Woodburn), who has also been supportive of Kitzhaber's education agenda.
The subtext for the governor's support is the split that occurred at the end of the 2011 session, when Johnson and Komp helped push through a package of education bills Kitzhaber wanted. Some of the bills in that package—such as one that expanded online charter schools—irked the powerful Oregon Education Association, the statewide teachers' union.
OEA issued a post-session report card on which it gave both Johnson and Komp failing grades for not voting OEA's way often enough. Komp and House Co-Speaker Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay) were the only two Democrats to receive failing grades and interestingly, both are former public school teachers and principals.
Kitzhaber's $500 is insignificant financially to Johnson, a first-term incumbent, but the govenor's implicit endorsement could be helpful in a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 1,700 voters. Johnson's opponent, Democrat Peter Nordbye, currently has less than $1,000 on hand; Johnson has $37,000 on hand.
The larger context, of course is that the House is currently split 30-30 for the first time ever and so every seat is crucial to both parties as they try to win a majority in the November 6 general election.
Updated at 12:10 pm
Kitzhaber is in the process of making the following contributions in addition to those cited above: Sen Peter Courtney (D-Salem), $4,000 (bringing his total contributions to Courtney to $5,000; Sen. Laurie Monnes-Anderson (D-Gresham), $10,000; State Rep. Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay), $10,000; Sen. Mark Hass (D-Beaverton), $1,000. Roblan is giving up his House seat to run for the Senate.
Nineteen other House candidates will be reporting Kitzhaber contributions. All but one, Rep. John Huffman (R-The Dalles) are Democrats.
Here is that list: Chris Gorsek, Democratic candidate in District 49, $2,000; Ben Unger, Democratic candidate in District 29,didate in District 37, $5,000; Rep. Betty Komp (D-Woodburn), $4,000; Rep. Tina Kotek (D-Portland), $5,000; Rep. Val Hoyle (D-Eugene), $750; Rep. Tobias Read (D-Beaverton), $750; Rep. Chris Garrett (D-Lake Oswego), $750; Rep. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), $500; Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer (D-Portland), $500, Rep. Greg Matthews, $500 and Rep. John Huffman (R-The Dalles), $250.
Kitzhaber is spending more time and energy raising money for other candidates in his third term than he did as governor from 1995 to 2003.
"I'm actively supporting reform-minded legislators," Kitzhaber says.