State Representative Brent Barton is revealing himself as an eager ladder climber.* (*That's not a value judgment, hell, it's practically a ringing endorsement where I come from.) Having only gotten elected to the house last year, the youthful corporate lawyer is already hoping to become a senator in the district, which stretches out into Hood River. Senator Rick Metsger, who currently represents the district, announced last Thursday that he won't seek reelection for the seat. Barton is the first to declare interest in a run.
Barton is a board member of the Oregon Bus Project, which went out and did some heavy door knocking for him in the previous election cycle—knocking on 10,000 doors. Barton only defeated his opponent Linda Flores by 52% to 48% in the November general election, by 14,033 votes to 13,057 votes.
But Barton got a bad rap in some quarters following his vote with Republicans against a bill to protect the Metolius River from development, earlier this year. Barton's law firm, Perkins Coie, happened to represent the developers, Dutch Pacific, who were planning to build a resort there. Barton filed a "potential conflict of interest" on the measure before voting, but still, voted against it anyway. He adds that he does not represent Dutch Pacific, personally, as a client at Perkins Coie.
"It's not like I want to pave the Metolius," Barton told the Oregonian in June, after voting, effectively, to pave the way for just that. Barton tells the Mercury he is proud of his environmental record, adding he that he recently scored 81% on the Oregon League of Conservation Voters' scorecard (the other 19% was because he's an "independent thinker," he says, although Barton ranked behind other progressive legislators from the Portland area like Jules Kopel Bailey, Ben Cannon, Michael Dembrow, and Mitch Greenlick). But in this particular instance, regarding the Metolius bill, "I thought the bill as drafted was very poor, and six Democrats agreed with me, initially, including the speaker of the house," says Barton.
"I refuse to let the exception define the rule," Barton continues. "There were plenty of ways I could have gotten behind protecting the Metolius, but the bill in front of me was not something I could have supported."
So, did Barton's voting with the big developers alienate him from the door-knocking progressives who effectively got him elected last time around? The Bus Project certainly seems to be sitting on the fence.
"We haven’t put together a plan, and keeping that seat in forward thinking hands is important," says Henry Kraemer, political director at the Bus. "We haven’t targeted anybody yet, but it’s going to be one of the closest elections if not the closest election in this coming cycle."
Update 1:57: Kraemer clarifies: "Our volunteers decide who we work for, and that takes place over the course of months, and by the time election season comes around, we have hundreds of volunteers excited to knock on doors for people. But that process takes time."
Original post, 1:59: Barton, meanwhile, says he is not concerned about getting door-knocking support from the Bus Project this time around. "The exception does not define the rule. I am extremely proud of my service, I continue to support the Bus Project strongly and they support me," he says. "They have a process, and that process is not yet complete, but I am very confident that the Bus Project will decide to support me when that process is complete," he says. "Nobody agrees with someone else's voting record 100% of the time."
We asked to speak with a volunteer at the Bus Project to find out how they might feel about knocking on doors for Barton, but are yet to hear back. Update, 3:06: We found one! Nick Popenuk chimes in after the jump.
Original post, 1:59:"It's disappointing to me that the story is still about the Metolius," says Barton. "And not about one of the most challenging races this year." More after the jump.
The Metolius protection bill was eventually passed by just one vote, after house representative Larry Galizio changed his vote, prompting accusations that he may have done so only to secure a job with help from Governor Ted Kulongoski.
As I explained to Barton, the story might well be about the race if he'd voted differently on the Metolius question. But that's politics. And speaking of politics, the question remains as to whether a credible opponent will emerge to run against Barton in the race for the vacant senate seat. It's unlikely. So he's likely to win the reluctant endorsement of progressives this time around, regardless.
Nevertheless, others are less sure about Barton's progressive credentials. One progressive legislative insider, who declined to be named, says he is "disappointed" in Barton's performance this time around. "I'm ready to buy in if he's willing to step up and improve himself to be a bolder legislator than he’s been in this past session," they continue. "He’s not going to get elected without the support of the progressive community, and he has to be a champion to get that support," the insider continues. "His voting record shows that he’s got a lot of potential but he’s not where he needs to be."
Also it's a bit chancey to be running for the senate so soon, isn't it?
"Somehow there's this premise that house experience is a pre-requisite for senate experience," says Barton. "I don't think it's particularly unusual historically speaking, to run for senate after just one term in the house." "Senators Rick Metsger and Ginny Burdick were both elected directly to the senate," says Barton. "Suzanne Bonamici is also an excellent example of someone who served one term in the house who moved over to the senate."
So why is he running for senate?
"I really value what I do, I really love representing my community, and I'm going to continue doing so in the senate," says Barton. "I'm also aware of a political reality," he says. "This is going to be a challenging and vigorous race, and I'm going to be best positioned to win it."
We'll keep you updated on the race.
Update, 3:06pm: Bus volunteer Nick Popenuk writes:
Regarding your Brent Barton article:
I am a Bus Project volunteer who would be happy to knock on doors for Brent Barton. His position on the Metolius bill doesn't concern me, and I'm glad he's not afraid to think independently. He is an intelligent, and honest politician. He has excellent leadership skills, and the potential to be a great State Senator. I think anyone that sits down for a conversation with Brent realizes that he has the best interests of his constituents at heart.
I also appreciate the Bus Project's stance on this election. It is wise to wait and see what other candidates toss their hats into the ring before making an official endorsement. As much as I like Brent, it would be foolish for the Bus (or anyone else) to choose sides in an election without knowing who else is running.