Veteran Republican lawmaker pitted against Democratic newcomer for state Senate seat

Republican Sen. Kim Thatcher and Democratic attorney Richard Walsh are competing to replace Democratic state Senate President Peter Courtney, who’s served 23 years in the state Senate

By: - November 1, 2022 6:00 am

Republican Kim Thatcher and Democrat Richard Walsh are vying for state Senate District 11 based in Salem. (Campaign photos)

The upcoming retirement of Peter Courtney in early January has triggered a fierce fight between a veteran state lawmaker and a legislative newcomer in the race for the newly drawn Senate District 11, which includes Keizer, Woodburn and part of Salem

Republican Sen. Kim Thatcher, who currently represents the Keizer-based Senate District 13, is running against Democrat Richard Walsh, a Keizer attorney and former member of the Keizer City Council.

Walsh has never served in the state Legislature, while Thatcher was first elected in 2004 and has served in the state House and Senate. Her current district, which slightly favored Democrats in 2020, was redrawn heavily in favor of Democrats, giving them about 59% of registered voters compared with 36% for Republicans, according to Dave’s Redistricting map. Democrats are also favored in the redrawn District 11 but they only have a slight edge in registered voters: 51% for Democrats compared with 43% for Republicans.

With widespread concern about crime, homelessness and inflation, and disgruntlement with Democratic leadership – Gov. Kate Brown is rated the least popular governor in the country – analysts expect Republicans to gain seats in the state Senate. Democrats currently have 18 senators compared with 11 for Republicans though Sen. Art Robinson, who represents Cave Junction, now caucuses with Sen. Brian Boquist, an independent representing rural parts of Polk and Yamhill counties.

Thatcher is campaigning against crime and homelessness. Walsh wants to address homelessness and has several health care proposals.

Kim Thatcher, Republican

Name: Kim Thatcher

Age: 58

Party: Republican

Residence: Keizer

Profession: Owner of construction companies and state senator

Funds raised as of Oct. 31: $1,180,000

Cash on hand as of Oct. 31: $59,000

Key endorsements: AG-PAC, National Federation of Independent Business, Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregon Firearms Federation

Thatcher, owner of two construction companies called KT Contracting and Highway Specialties, has served continuously as a state lawmaker since she joined the state House of Representatives in 2005. In 2014, she won her current seat in the Senate. 

Thatcher said she’s running for the new district, even though Democrats have an edge, to break the Democratic control of the government. 

She said her priorities include reducing crime, homelessness and what she considers to be overreaching government regulations.

As an example, she cited Covid lockdowns and vaccine requirements. Another: an environmental cap-and-trade proposal that sparked Republican walkouts in 2019 and 2020. 

“We did try to negotiate, but we were in a super minority, and we were being told to sit down and shut up and just let us roll over you,” she said. 

She said one of her legislative accomplishments happened during this year’s session. She pushed for Senate Bill 1584, which gives people who’ve been wrongfully convicted financial compensation and other support, including counseling, housing and job training. It passed unanimously and was one of the few Senate bills with a Republican chief sponsor to pass in the most recent legislative session, she said. 

Thatcher said she also has pushed for greater transparency, for example, by sponsoring House Bill 2500 in 2009. It created the Oregon Transparency website, which lists public records, such as meetings, salaries of state agencies and performance measures.

To alleviate homelessness, Thatcher said the Legislature needs to target addiction and mental health instead of focusing on affordable housing. In the past two years, the Legislature has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to boost the state’s lack of services but the money has been slow to get out the door.

According to the city of Salem, there are 1,188 people who are homeless in Marion and Polk Counties. 

She said the Legislature needs to address homelessness on a community level. 

“What works in Salem might not work in Portland and vice versa,” she said.

While canvassing, she’s found that residents are most concerned about rising prices and crime. 

“They’re not liking the direction our state is going,” she said.

Although property crime in Salem was down 8.4% in 2021, violent crimes – including homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault – rose 10% that year, according to the Salem Police Department.

Like other Republicans, Thatcher criticized Brown for granting the early release of about 1,000 prisoners, though most of them were nonviolent offenders. She also criticized a 2021 bill preventing most mugshots from being public and said she’s worried about state police staffing levels.

Thatcher is vice chair of the Senate Interim Committee on Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation, and has been in the minority party the entire time she’s been in the Senate.

“I’m hoping that I’ll have more friends and we’ll have more balance and that, in so doing, we can fix some of these problems that are apparent to most everybody, that are causing some of these problems in our neighborhoods, not making people feel safe, etcetera,” she said.

Richard Walsh, Democrat

Name: Richard Walsh

Age: 64

Party: Democrat

Residence: Keizer

Profession: Attorney

Funds raised as of Oct. 31: $747,000

Cash on hand as of Oct. 31: $59,000

Key endorsements: Planned Parenthood, SEIU 503, Oregon State Police Officers’ Association and Oregon League of Conservation Voters

Walsh, who served on the Keizer City Council from 2000 until 2011, was appointed as the Democratic candidate for Senate District 11 when Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson dropped out of the race. He said he decided to run because he felt the district needs “effective representation” from someone involved in the community.

Housing is one of his top priorities.

He has hosted people overnight who are homeless since 2019 and considers the lack of unstable housing a big issue in the district. For three years, he’s advocated for Keizer to create micro shelters, which he described as “10 by 10 boxes with a roof on them and a little heater unit and air conditioner.” 

The city’s built none, but the Salem-based nonprofit Church @ the Park, which helps homeless people with transitional housing, joined the city of Salem to create two micro shelter communities in the city. Walsh said he donates to the nonprofit and sits on its advisory board.

Walsh said he would like to expand that program statewide. 

“It’s an environment where people are going to be protected and safe, and they’ll be able to start their lives,” he said.

If elected, Walsh said he also would like to work on health care issues. As an attorney, he’s represented many injured people fighting insurance company denials. Though he supports health care for all, he said that’s not likely to happen next term but he said he would like to make prescription drugs more affordable by joining Oregon with California and Washington to negotiate lower drug prices from pharmaceutical companies. He also would like to advance a bill to ensure that frontline and essential workers receive workers compensation benefits if they contract Covid.

He’d also like to address campaign reform, by limiting contributions, and would like to see an expanded voters pamphlet with more information about candidates and have them swear it’s true.

Republicans have blasted Walsh in ads, saying he has $30,000 in unpaid taxes. That sum refers to his delay in paying an income tax bill in 2010 during a divorce proceeding, he said.

“The minute that was final, I wrote a check and paid the whole thing in full penalties, late fees, the whole thing,” he said.

Critics have also pointed out he got a DUI in 2010. He completed a diversion program and takes full responsibility for the mistake, he said. 

“I have recognized my error, admitted my fault, have not repeated this error over the last 12 years and it will never happen again,” he said.

He attacked Thatcher for questioning Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election and sending a letter to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum calling for 2020 forensic election audits in all states.

“It was a call to make sure the elections were handled fairly, nothing more,” Thatcher said. “Many constituents wanted that reassurance and that was all the letter attempted to do. It was a call for transparency and accuracy in the election process.”

As a Democrat, Walsh said he thinks he has a good chance of representing District 11 and feels he has what it takes to do a good job.

This story was developed in collaboration with the Catalyst Journalism Project at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Catalyst brings together investigative reporting and solutions journalism to spark action and response to Oregon’s most perplexing issues. To learn more visit https://catalystjournalism.uoregon.edu or follow the project on Twitter @UO_catalyst.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Alexis Weisend
Alexis Weisend

Alexis Weisend is a senior at the University of Oregon majoring in journalism and political science. Previously, she has worked as a Snowden intern for the Astorian. In her free time, she likes cooking and reading historical fiction.”

MORE FROM AUTHOR