Local Edwards to fill Oregon Senate seat

Rep. Chris Edwards has been selected to represent Eugene in the State Senate during the 2010 legislative session.

Edwards will replace Democrat Vicki Walker, who stepped down to take a position on the state parole board in July after seven years in the Senate. Edwards, also a Democrat, has represented West Eugene in the State House of Representatives since his election in 2006.

One of three candidates, Edwards was unanimously nominated by the Lane County Board of Commissioners at its Aug. 5 meeting. Edwards will fill Senate District 7 seat, which represents the majority of Eugene, including both the district that elected him to the House and the portion represented by Rep. Nancy Nathanson.

Walker was known in the Senate for her outspoken personality and confrontational style. Edwards’ beliefs resemble his predecessor’s, but his style is more moderate.

“I think that Edwards will have a more moderating influence in the Senate due to his history,” College Democrats President Ryan McCarrel said. “With a background in small business and a family in the timber industry, Edwards will be able to relate to both the rural and urban communities in his district, as well as both parties at the state level.”

Edwards said he understands he must work harder in his new position to represent his new district, which includes the territory that elected him to the House. “It’s going to be a big job to fill her shoes,” he said of Walker on Wednesday. “I’m going to start by walking door to door, introducing myself to the added district and listening to what they want to see happen in their community.” Edwards said he looks forward to governing such a diverse district, which ranges from Junction City to the Santa Clara, Whiteaker and Cal Young neighborhoods.

Peter Courtney, State Senate president, expressed his support of Edwards’ appointment in an Aug. 5 press release. Courtney wrote that during his two terms in the House, “Edwards earned a reputation as a passionate advocate for his constituents. He’s willing to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get the job done … Edwards is good. He’s very good. He was made for the Senate.”

Edwards is known for his initiatives on K-12 education, health care and economic sustainability. In the Senate, he plans to continue working on the same measures, including the Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Technology Act unveiled earlier in the year.

“I’d like to see Edwards strengthening the link between K-12 and higher education, enforcing the importance of a college education and providing more assistance to those without sufficient academic resources,” McCarrel said. He also added that Edwards should focus on the necessity of improving state health care and environmental problems in the approaching session.

Shortly after Walker’s appointment to the parole board, Edwards and fellow Eugene Rep. Nathanson were mentioned as successors to her seat, and both representatives showed signs of interest. On July 27, Nathanson announced her intention to remain in her House position.

“While serving as a Senator would be a great honor,” Nathanson wrote in an e-mail to the Emerald, “at this time, my leadership on the Joint Ways and Means Committee, the Emergency Board, and other efforts is the best way to represent the interest of my constituents, as well as our city and state.”

Democratic Reps. Bob Ackerman and political newcomer Mark Callahan chose to run against Edwards for Walker’s position.  

While Edwards will occupy an empty Senate seat, he leaves behind a House seat that Lane County Democrats are scrambling to fill within the official 20-day period. He has declined to show support to any prospective candidate until the interested contenders have officially announced their intent to run and he has had time to understand their standpoints.
Community members have already publicly mentioned their interest in Edwards’ House District 14 seat, including Rich Cunningham, a Eugene Water and Electric Board commissioner; Eugene City Councilor Andrea Ortiz; and Carol Horne Dennis, a Lane Education Service District Board member.

“I have been active in the local Democratic party, and especially House District 14, for about the past 6 or 7 years,” Dennis said. “Making the move into the House seat seems a very logical next step.” Dennis and the other prospective nominees express ideals similar to Edwards’, including encouraging green business growth and full funding of state education.

The date of Edwards’ swearing-in ceremony remains undeclared, but must take place by Sept. 4. He will officially fill the Senate seat in the 2010 legislative session beginning on Feb. 1, and has informed commissioners that he plans to run for the seat again in the following November election.

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