In a position long-held by a Republican, a departing incumbent and redistricting means the 2022 General Election could flip House District 19 to the Democrats for the first time in two decades.
Former Salem City Councilor Tom Andersen won a competitive Democratic primary this spring and is squaring off against insurance broker TJ Sullivan, who ran uncontested in the Republican primary.
Redistricting in 2021 tightened the southern border of the district and expanded the district's portion of south-central Salem, increasing the number of Democratic-leaning neighborhoods and cutting out the more rural areas.
The new district is now expected to lean Democrat, according to the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, which studies how legislative districts are drawn.
Current Rep. Raquel Moore-Green, R-Salem, opted to not seek re-election and is instead running for a spot in the Oregon Senate against incumbent Sen. Deb Patterson, D-Salem.
With the promise of a competitive race, hundreds of thousands of dollars have poured into the campaigns for House District 19.
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During his almost eight years on the Salem City Council, attorney Andersen biked to every in-person meeting and could often be seen pedaling around his home near Bush's Pasture Park — a theme reflected in his campaign signs featuring the green silhouette of a cyclist.
The words on the sign, "Elect a proven leader," have become a major talking point. Andersen won a three-way primary race against fellow councilor Jackie Leung and state Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, who opted to run in Salem when his current district became Republican-leaning.
Leung dropped out of the race due to health reasons but remained on the ballot. Even with Witt's campaign outraising Andersen's 10 to one and Witt collecting several high-profile endorsements, Andersen prevailed, insisting he was the candidate with the most experience and connection to the Salem community. He won with 36.7% of the vote.
The general election is gearing up to be another high-dollar race.
As of Sept. 27, Sullivan's campaign reported $120,065 in contributions. Andersen's campaign reported $57,436 in contributions.
Despite being outspent, Andersen believes he can win again.
"I've been battle-tested on this," he said. "Organized people beat organized money."
Andersen highlighted key issues he promised to work on as a state representative, including homelessness, protecting reproductive rights, fighting climate change and investing in public schools.
He pointed to his work on the council to ban single-use plastic bags, time on the city's Climate Action Task Force and efforts to increase the use of mass transit and pedestrian- and bike-friendly infrastructure.
Andersen said he wants to implement "real solutions to the homelessness crisis," like increasing affordable housing and low-barrier shelter beds. Again, he circled back to his work on the council to provide tax incentives for affordable housing and open a low-barrier navigation center.
For education, Andersen said he wants to prioritize investing in career and technical education along with helping kids rebound from classroom time lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also underscored his belief in protecting the right to safe and legal abortion, an issue that moved to the forefront of many campaigns after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
He said this issue sets him apart from his opponent, who has received contributions from the Oregon Right to Life PAC, an anti-abortion group.
Andersen also said his experience on council and as an attorney set him apart. He said he is used to cross-examining information and working with people along the political spectrum to get things done.
"I have demonstrated my ability to work across the aisle," he said. " I have my abilities as a trial lawyer but am someone who doesn't make enemies out of his adversaries."
Growing up in Chicago, Andersen's father, a Presbyterian minister, was active in the social justice movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
"What we talked about at our dinner table was how we could make the world a better place," he said. "I've tried to do that with my family. I've tried to do that with City Council and now I will do this with the state Legislature."
After long being urged to run for mayor and state Legislature, Sullivan said he was approached by a group of moms in his district, many of them Democrats, asking him to run for office.
He recounted them saying, "Okay, you've sat on the sidelines long enough. We need your voice. We need someone to come in and won't be too partisan. We need that moderate influence."
Sullivan served on the Salem City Council from 2004 to 2010, as board president for the Friends of the Salem Senior Center, president of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce and board president of Salem's Main Street Association.
His wife, long skeptical of the stresses of a campaign, said running for the Oregon House was something he should consider.
"With her endorsement, we moved forward," Sullivan said. "I feel like I am the right person at the right time to enter this fray."
Sullivan said he's running on a platform of improving community safety, education and homelessness, along with supporting the area's growing economy.
He said state leaders are not supporting police and are prioritizing criminals' rights over victims.
"People just don't feel safe," Sullivan said.
He said he wants to counteract that by hiring more police officers to fully staff departments. He said more focus needs to be put on the mental health component of homelessness and crime.
"Everybody acts like housing is the answer," Sullivan said. "Housing isn't removing the underlying condition."
Whether it's mental health or chemical dependency, the region needs more facilities to treat people, he added.
In education, Sullivan said, more accountability is needed — for teachers and students, and higher standards are needed to ensure kids receive a quality education and spend more time in the classroom.
He also looks to bring a business-minded perspective to the city, exemplifying this through his work promoting downtown with the Salem Main Street Association and supporting small businesses while leading the Salem Chamber of Commerce.
He also pointed to his time on council, during which it added five parks to the city's inventory and worked to redevelop the blighted Boise Cascade site.
Sullivan said a regional airport would bring an economic boon to the city and wants to see downtown Salem thriving and dressed up for holidays, becoming a destination for tourists and residents alike.
Sullivan's campaign materials do not mention reproductive rights, and when asked, he said he would prioritize other, more pressing issues like crime and homelessness. He did not specifically say whether he was in favor of access to abortion but said most Oregonians believe that third-trimester abortions are reprehensible. Such abortions are rare, representing fewer than 1% of all abortions, and are typically done to due significant fetal abnormalities or risk to the mother's health.
"As the Representative for House District 19, I would consider a more balanced approach to the subject that incorporates differing viewpoints," Sullivan said, regarding abortion.
His campaign received $2,500 from the Oregon Right to Life PAC, a political action group that advocates against abortion access.
Sullivan said he prides himself on being able to work with people across the political spectrum and "breaking the mold" of what a Republican looks like.
"I think that my like strength is going to be connecting with people in Salem. When you've lived here all your life, you just know everybody from all parts of town," he said. "Giving them a voice in the capitol is going to be important. It's about making people feel heard."
Meet the candidates
Occupation: Insurance broker, co-owner of Huggins Insurance
Campaign contributions: $120,065
Top donors: Evergreen Oregon PAC ($60,980 in-kind and cash), Friends of Vikki ($17,500), Bring Balance to Salem PAC ($5,000), Oregon Nurseries Political Action Committee ($2,500), Oregon Right to Life PAC ($2,500).
Endorsements: Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett, businessman and community leader Dick Withnell, Oregon Farm Bureau, Crime Victims United of Oregon, Oregon Hispanic Business Association, Oregon state Rep. Raquel Moore-Green, and Marion County Commissioners Danielle Bethell, Kevin Cameron and Colm Willis.
Party: Democrat, also nominated by the Independent Party of Oregon
Campaign contributions: $57,436
Top donors: Future PAC Home Builders ($18,024 in-kind), Citizen Action for Political Education($2,500), Oregon Trial Lawyers Association PAC ($2,000).
Endorsements: Planned Parenthood Oregon; Oregon AFSCME Council 75; Salem Mayor-elect Chris Hoy; Salem City Councilors Jose Gonzalez, Trevor Phillips and Virginia Stapleton; Salem-Keizer NAACP past President Benny Williams; U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley; U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden; Oregon state Sen. Deb Patterson.
This article includes reporting from Claire Withycombe.
Reporter Whitney Woodworth covers city hall, economic development and business for the Statesman Journal. For questions, comments and news tips, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 503-910-6616 or follow on Twitter @wmwoodworth.
This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Election 2022: Will South Salem voters flip House District 19 from GOP?