Power in Oregon Senate Could Hinge on Southern Oregon Race

Oct 31, 2014

Oregon’s Third Senate District – which comprises southern Jackson County including most of Medford – is one of several key districts where the outcome of the race could overturn Democratic control of the narrowly-divided state Senate. JPR's Liam Moriarty looks at the re-match between incumbent Democrat Alan Bates and Republican challenger, Dave Dotterrer.

Republican state Senate candidate Dave Dotterrer (L), and the incumbent Democrat, Alan Bates
Credit Liam Moriarty / JPR

Four years ago, Dave Dotterrer came within 282 votes of defeating Alan Bates for the Third District seat. Having spent the last four years as a budget analyst for the Republican legislative caucuses in Salem, Dotterrer is running again. Much of the focus of this race has been on the tone of the campaign. Dotterrer – a retired Marine colonel – got a lot of attention with a series of attack ads.

TV Advertisement: “Alan Bates voted against privacy for domestic violence victims and against equal rights for women in the Oregon constitution. He placed us at risk, voting to let violent felons out of prison early … even those convicted of sex crimes.”

The ominous tone of the ads hasn’t often been heard before in local races and was off-putting to many. In a candidate forum on KOBI TV NBC5 in Medford, Bates said that ad, and others like it, unfairly distorts his record.

Alan Bates: “I’ve never been in a race before where there’s so many negative attack ads; things taken out of context, misquoted, some things just flat out not true.”

Another Dotterrer ad slammed Bates for voting to close the Oregon School for the Blind in Salem, failing to mention that lawmakers of both parties overwhelmingly voted to close the school to shift money to community-based programs for blind students. Other ads blame Bates for cutting educational spending, lack of job growth and the Cover Oregon health insurance fiasco ... Dotterrer has defended the ads, saying they criticize Bate’s record, but don’t attack him personally.

Dave Dotterrer: “What I’ve done throughout this entire campaign is I’ve compared and contrasted and where I disagree with my opponent on certain issues and certain votes that he’s taken and certain stances that he’s taken, I’ve pointed those out.”

Ads for Bates – a family physician -- don’t even mention Dotterrer.
TV Advertisement: “It’s leadership that’s hard to find these days. While political parties fight each other, Dr. Alan Bates brings people together to find commonsense solutions … Yes, there’s more to do, but with Doc Bates, we’ll get there … together.”

Bates has said he’d rather lose than run a negative campaign. But that may not be up to him. This seat is one of a handful that could change the slim 16 to 14 seat majority Democrats hold over Republicans in the Oregon Senate. So the race has attracted a lot of attention – and money -- from outside the district. Dotterrer has raised the most campaign cash of any Senate candidate this year. And the District Three race is currently Oregon’s most-expensive Senate race, with nearly 1.2 million dollars raised between the two campaigns. More than 60 percent of that total is Dotterrer’s. And as the campaign winds down toward Election Day, outside groups – unaffiliated with either campaign – are making their presence known.

TV Advertisement: “When schools were suffering devastating cuts, seniors were losing lifesaving services and public safety was at risk, Dave Dotterrer had a plan: Make things worse.”

Both Dotterrer and Bates have recently been the targets of often-misleading attack ads and mailers from outside groups. One from the state Democratic Party claims Dotterrer opposes background checks for gun sales, something he’s said he supports. Meanwhile, Oregon Right to Life has portrayed Bates as supporting abortion right up to the moment of birth. Both candidates have disavowed knowledge of the independent attack ads on their opponents … On the issues, Bates and Dotterer actually agree on a number of key points. Both want to increase funding for K-12 as well as higher education, using money saved from the health and human services budget. Bates says that’s already being done by making the health care system more efficient.

Alan Bates: “Preventative care, doing things that keep people healthy before they get to the point where they have to go to emergency rooms or hospitals.”

Bates says that allowed lawmakers to put a billion dollars back into K-12 education last session. Meanwhile, Dotterrer thinks human services have been overpromised and may have to be trimmed to fund education ... Both candidates say jobs are a big priority for this part of the state that’s lagging behind the economic recovery in Oregon’s more urban areas. Dotterrer says first, government needs to stop making life hard for entrepreneurs.

Dave Dotterrer: “When you talk to small business people they will tell you that this is not a business-friendly state. You have to put up with this -- as one of them I thought very nicely described it as – this sticky web of regulatory inhibitors.”

Bates points towards state programs he’s voted for that are helping businesses by boosting trade and offering financing. Both candidates support beefed-up background checks to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns. Both have reservations about the Measure 91 marijuana legalization initiative. And both support the Measure 92 GMO labeling effort … A lot of Bates’ funding comes unions, public employees and health care industry sources, while Dotterrer gets much of his cash from industry PACs and business organizations ranging from the Oregon Small Business Association to the American Chemistry Council. His largest contributor by far -- to the tune of more than $200,000 – is The Leadership Fund, an account run by Senate Republican leader Ted Ferrioli dedicated to getting Republicans elected to the Oregon Senate ... Whether the outcome of this race changes the balance of power in Salem remains to be seen. But the growing flood of out-of-district cash – and the willingness of outside groups to run their own negative campaigns – suggests voters in the Third District may have to get used to the new tone of election season.

Copyright 2014 JPR.