Bill Kennemer is a Republican politician who served in both chambers of the Oregon legislature over a span of three decades. He first joined the Oregon Senate in the early 1990s before shifting to the House in 2009. Kennemer then returned to the Senate in 2021 but lost re-election after a single term. He was viewed as a conservative lawmaker who championed issues like cannabis regulation, healthcare reform, and economic incentives. While Kennemer enjoyed electoral success for most of his career, his time in the legislature came to an abrupt end with his defeat in 2022.
Early Life and Education
William G. “Bill” Kennemer was born on August 13, 1951 in Salem, Oregon. He was raised in the Willamette Valley and attended schools in the region. Kennemer earned his undergraduate degree from Warner Pacific College, a small Christian liberal arts school in Portland. He went on to receive a Ph.D in psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary’s Graduate School of Psychology located in California.
Early Political Career
Kennemer’s political career began with election to the Oregon State Senate in 1990. He represented District 12 which covered parts of Clackamas County. Kennemer was re-elected to the seat in 1994. During this early period, he made an unsuccessful bid for Oregon Secretary of State in 1992 but lost in the Republican primary. Kennemer cultivated a conservative persona and advocated for policies supported by business and law enforcement interests.
Oregon House of Representatives (2009-2019)
After a hiatus from elected office, Kennemer returned to Salem when he won a seat in the Oregon House of Representatives in 2008. He represented District 39 which overlapped much of his old State Senate district. Voters re-elected him to the House in 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018.
Committee AssignmentsSponsored Legislation
Kennemer sponsored a wide array of bills on topics like cannabis regulation, tax incentives for film productions, transportation projects, and occupational licensing. Many proposals dealt with emerging industries and expanding economic opportunities.
To fund his House campaigns, Kennemer raised about $1.3 million in total contributions. Major donors included healthcare organizations, professional associations, electric utilities, and forestry/agriculture groups.
Scorecards and Ratings
Kennemer was consistently scored between 0 and 30 percent by labor unions. Meanwhile, he received high marks from business lobbies along with “A” grades from the NRA and pro-life groups. These ratings reinforced his credentials as a mainstream conservative.
Oregon State Senate (2021-2023)
In 2020, Kennemer shifted back to the State Senate after winning the open District 20 seat located south of Portland. However, his return to the upper chamber would be short-lived.
Kennemer landed committee posts dealing with economic matters (Labor and Business) and natural resources (Natural Resources and Wildlife Recovery). He was able to work on legislation tied to his district’s economy.
During the 2021 and 2022 sessions, Kennemer introduced Senate bills on subjects like cannabis enforcement, Balance Billing protection, and certification for surgical technologists. A number of his proposals were signed into law.
For his winning 2020 Senate campaign, Kennemer raised around $370,000 from sources like hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, cannabis businesses, and agricultural interests. This continued his robust fundraising network.
Scorecards and Ratings
Kennemer was again scored between 0 and 30 percent by labor groups. He earned praise from fiscally conservative watchdogs as well as 100 percent scores from pro-life and gun rights organizations. Kennemer maintained a very conservative profile.
2022 State Senate Election Loss
After just one term back in the Senate, Kennemer was defeated in the 2022 midterm election. Mark Meek, a political newcomer, upset the incumbent by winning 50.3 percent of the vote.
Meek benefitted from a favorable political climate for Democrats even in a purple district. He also likely gained an advantage by calling attention to Kennemer’s marijuana industry ties which some viewed as inappropriate for a psychologist. The loss demonstrated Kennemer’s electoral vulnerability despite his long career.
Throughout his legislative tenure, Kennemer cultivated a conservative profile and aligned with standard Republican positions. He voted for budgets and spending plans backed by his caucus leaders. Kennemer opposed tax increases and supported private sector solutions for issues like healthcare.
On social policy, he took reliably conservative stances against abortion access and for gun rights. Kennemer also backed get-tough illegal immigration proposals. However, he demonstrated some pragmatism on issues like cannabis regulation.
Kennemer had mixed relations with activist groups. Business and anti-tax lobbies viewed him as an ally while labor and environmental groups considered him an opponent. He maintained ties to healthcare interests and agricultural players.
When not serving in the legislature, Kennemer resided in Oregon City located south of Portland along the Willamette River. He practiced psychology and specialized in clinical work related to behavioral health.
Kennemer and his wife Vicki were married for over 30 years until her passing in 2020. They had three adult children together. Kennemer’s son Andy has also been involved in Republican politics through work for conservative organizations.
Legacy and Impact
Over his three decades in Salem, Bill Kennemer established himself as an influential voice for Clackamas County and a skilled politician able to adapt and regroup from setbacks. He provided steady representation for suburban conservatives around Portland.
While not necessarily known for shaping a particular issue, Kennemer promoted economic development in his district through incentives for industries like cannabis, film production, and technology. He also championed occupational reforms in fields like dental care and surgical technology.
However, Kennemer’s legacy will likely be defined by his electoral longevity combined with an abrupt final defeat after redistricting. For most of his career, he demonstrated political acumen by winning over constituents across party lines. But the district’s changes ultimately caught up with Kennemer and led to his exit from the State Senate.
Bill Kennemer leaves behind an impactful legacy within Oregon politics and government. His 30-year legislative career reflected a rise and fall trajectory not uncommon in politics today with increasing polarization. For the most part, Kennemer adapted successfully over time to serve his changing district. But the volatility of the current political era finally brought his Senate tenure to a sudden halt in 2022. Kennemer will be remembered as a conservative champion who helped steer Oregon’s development from the late 20th into the 21st Century before partisan shifts brought his legislative journey to an end.
What Legislation Did Bill Kennemer Sponsor?
During his many years in the Oregon legislature, Kennemer sponsored bills on issues like cannabis regulation, healthcare reforms, economic incentives for industries, occupational licensing changes, and wildlife conservation efforts. Several Kennemer-sponsored bills dealing with topics like surgical tech training, film industry promotion, and insurance protections became law.
What Were Bill Kennemer’s Political Positions?
Kennemer was regarded as a reliable conservative throughout his time in office. He supported typical Republican stances on budgets, taxes, regulation, and social issues. Kennemer voted against abortion access and in favor of gun rights. He was willing to take more pragmatic approaches on some topics like cannabis policy.
How Long Did Bill Kennemer Serve In The Legislature?
Kennemer served a total of 30 years in the Oregon legislature – 10 years in the Senate (1990-2000) and 20 years in the House (2009-2019) followed by one final Senate term (2021-2023). His tenure reflected his political acumen but ended abruptly after redistricting.
Why Did Bill Kennemer Lose In 2022?
After winning re-election for decades, Kennemer lost his Senate seat in 2022 mainly due to a tough national environment for Republicans that outweighed his incumbent advantage. Redistricting also made his district more competitive. Kennemer lost to a Democratic challenger by less than one percent of the vote.
What Did Bill Kennemer Do Before Politics?
Before first running for office in 1990, Kennemer worked professionally as a psychologist. He specialized in clinical psychology and behavioral health treatment. Kennemer brought this healthcare background with him to the legislature’s policymaking work.