State representative announces interest in possible open seatWhen she heard Monday that state Sen. Joan Dukes had been nominated to a regional job and might be vacating her Oregon Senate seat, Rep. Betsy Johnson convened a group of Tillamook residents to gauge what support she might receive if she sought Dukes' senate seat.

The response, along with the feedback she got later that day from backers in Astoria, was positive enough to convince her to toss her hat in the ring, Johnson said.

But another possible candidate, Tillamook County Commissioner Tim Josi, said he probably will not seek the Senate seat.

Dukes was nominated Monday by Gov. Ted Kulongoski to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. If confirmed by the rest of the state Senate next month, she will leave her seat after 18 years in the chamber.

Johnson, D-Scappoose, is the first person to announce she will seek appointment to the District 16 Senate seat if Dukes is confirmed.

"It just means twice the work, new letterhead for the stationery and moving over to the other end of the building," Johnson joked about the change from House to Senate.

While well-known to constituents of House District 31, which runs along the Columbia River from just north of Portland to Astoria, after two terms in office, Johnson said she's less familiar to voters in the rest of the Senate district, which includes the rest of Clatsop County and all of Tillamook County.

"I wanted to see if there was the potential to earn the trust and respect of new constituents. I got a very positive response," Johnson said of her Tillamook meeting, noting that she was also relatively unfamiliar to many Clatsop County residents when she first ran for the Legislature in 2000.

Johnson was re-elected two years later and easily won a third term over a third-party candidate in this year's general election.

If Dukes vacates her seat, Democratic Party precinct leaders from the district will choose a group of nominees, whose names will be forwarded to the commissioners of the district's five counties to pick the top candidate. That person would serve out the rest of Dukes' current term, which ends in 2006.

The process occurred earlier this year to find a replacement for former House District 32 Rep. Elaine Hopson, who resigned from the seat in July. The commissioners in Clatsop, Tillamook, Columbia and Washington counties picked Deborah Boone of Hamlet from among three nominees.

If Johnson is chosen, a similar selection process will be used to replace her in the District 31 House seat.

Moving to the Senate from the House would mean moving to a chamber where the Democrats will hold the majority next year - a definite plus, Johnson said, especially after being in the minority party in the House for the past four years. But it also means giving up two terms' worth of seniority and starting over as "an absolute freshman," who typically get last pick of committee assignments.

Johnson currently serves on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, the budget-writing panel. Through two regular legislative sessions and several special sessions she learned the often arcane workings of the many agency budgets the committee reviewed, she said.

"I have always been comfortable with numbers," she said. "I have run a business, and I approached the ways and means process in that way."

No predictionsBut Johnson is making no predictions about committee assignments at this point, especially before Dukes' replacement has even been chosen.

Whoever represents Senate District 16 next year, the state budget will be the biggest task. State revenue projections remain stagnant, the result of the jobless economic recovery, and while there may be some fat to trim, lawmakers will mostly likely be faced with making more cuts to state services next year as they seek to balance a budget that is an estimated $1 billion out of balance, Johnson said.

Another name mentioned as a possible Dukes replacement was former state representative Josi. But on Tuesday Josi said while he's considering the post, it's not likely he'll put his name in the running. Spending time with his family, and his duties as commissioner - he was recently named chairman of the Association of Oregon Counties - come first at this point, he said.

"I really enjoyed being in the Legislature, and I would like to go to the Senate, but this is not a good time," he said.

Josi represented District 2 (now District 32) in the Oregon House from 1991 until 1998, when he left due to term limits.

'Great job'"If Betsy Johnson decided to run for the seat, I think she would do a great job," he said.

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