Kate Brown • Democrat
In the 14 months since she took over from former Gov. John Kitzhaber, who resigned Feb. 18, 2015, Kate Brown has faced a lot of challenges: a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College, scandal at the Department of Human Services, incompetence at the Department of Environmental Quality, and the invasion of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by a posse of gun-totin' yahoos who believed their revolution was endorsed by Jesus Christ.
She's smiled through it all.
Brown's greatest political strength is her affability—and her ability, so far, to blame problems on her predecessor.
As governor she's shown a degree of decisiveness. She replaced her chief of staff rapidly when her administration began to founder. She rebounded from a rocky start (marred by a botched 2015 attempt to pass a transportation funding package) to oversee aggressive minimum-wage and renewable-energy legislation earlier this year.
Critics may not like the bills, but Brown has never claimed to be anything other than a liberal Democrat, and she can rightfully claim to have moved a progressive agenda forward.
Potential rivals gave Brown a pass in 2016. She doesn't have serious competition for this nomination. But between now and 2018, when she will probably be running for her first full term, we'd like to see her explain clearly to Oregonians what she really cares about and how she wants to change Oregon to realize her vision.
She also needs to take ownership of state agencies. Scandal at the Department of Human Services appeared to take her by surprise, and she seemed equally flat-footed when her Department of Environmental Quality mishandled air-pollution fears in Portland. When she fired Oregon Lottery Director Jack Roberts last week, he reported that Brown had never asked to meet with him in her 14 months in office. That's a cavalier attitude toward an agency that's the state's second-largest source of revenue.
Luckily for Brown, she's running against a handful of newbies: Dr. Julian Bell, a Medford intensive care physician who wants the state to do more about global warming; Dave Stauffer, who wants to build a giant pipe from Idaho to Astoria to capture Columbia River water for irrigation; Steve Johnson, a Portland home care worker; Kevin Forsythe, a Walmart employee from Newport; and Chet Chance of Springfield. None of them presents a serious alternative.
Brown's favorite food cart: Yolk in Woodstock. "Great egg sandwiches!" Brown says.
Bud Pierce • Republican
No Republican has won a governor's election in Oregon since Vic Atiyeh was re-elected in 1982. With unemployment at a 15-year low and Gov. Kate Brown still enjoying a honeymoon with voters, it's hard to see that changing this year.
Republicans bear a big part of the blame for their 34-year drought. The GOP is irreparably split over social issues and also consistently fails to recruit candidates who might find support among the 23 percent of Oregon voters unaffiliated with a party.
Dr. Bud Pierce, who runs four oncology clinics in Salem, jumped into the race in September. Although Pierce has put in $1 million of his own money, his campaign has failed to generate much enthusiasm among a party faithful imbued with all the optimism of Philadelphia 76ers season-ticket holders. That's puzzling in a way, because Pierce is thoughtful, well-spoken and reasonable: He's a moderate on social issues such as abortion and gay rights, and unlike many GOP candidates, he says he believes the science behind global warming is solid and that we should take steps to reduce carbon emissions. He's served as a leader of the Oregon Medical Association and helped negotiate a truce between trial lawyers and doctors.
Pierce's main competition comes from investor Allen Alley, who ran for governor in 2010 and state treasurer in 2008. Alley, an engineer and former CEO of semiconductor company Pixelworks, seemed unsure about his plans this year, entering the race only at the filing deadline. Alley ran the Republican Party of Oregon from 2011 to 2013, and although he brought a rational approach to what has been a chaotic operation, electoral results haven't changed. So far this year, he seems to be recycling old talking points, and in an endorsement interview was so disengaged he would not even divulge which presidential candidate he supports.
Alley's candidacy is the equivalent of a lottery ticket, purchased on the long shot that something goes horribly wrong with Gov. Kate Brown's campaign. Pierce has shown he's taking the race more seriously—his higher level of engagement would make him a better foil to Brown in November.
Also running is Bruce Cuff, a congenial realtor from Lyons in Marion County who carries a large wooden mallet inscribed with the words "liberal idea smacker;" Bob Niemeyer, a self-employed engineer and inventor; and Bob Forthan, a Portlander who has run for mayor, governor and president.
Pierce's favorite restaurant: Momiji Japanese restaurant in Salem.
Conversation: Bruce Cuff
Gubernatorial candidate Cuff wants federal lands placed under county control. That was also a demand of Ammon Bundy, who in January seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon.
WW: Did you visit the Malheur occupation?
Bruce Cuff: I went there. I was a candidate for governor. And I talked to the sheriff. I believe the sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in the county. I made a commitment to myself if he said that wasn’t a good idea, then I wouldn’t go.
So I talked to Sheriff Ward. I talked to three sheriffs, and they said, “Look, it’s not going to do any good to go out there.” I said, “OK, look, I believe you’re the top law enforcement officer in the county, I will take that.”
My mom sent me with sleeping bags and snacks for the boys, and I had to take it back to Mom and say, “Sorry, Mom. Can’t go.”
Secretary of State
Val Hoyle • Democrat
All three candidates in this race—Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, state Sen. Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin) and state Rep. Val Hoyle (D-Eugene)—bring strong political résumés to the race.
But it's what they would do with the job that sets them apart—and makes it crucial that voters rally behind anybody but Avakian.
The former trial lawyer and Washington County lawmaker was appointed labor commissioner in 2008 and has defended his seat three times. As labor commissioner, Avakian has latched onto high-profile issues: gay rights, veterans' hiring preferences, and racial discrimination. That may please constituents, but he often seems to take on issues because of what the attention can do for him as for the interests of those he purports to serve.
Avakian is so eager to win he has exaggerated the duties the Oregon Constitution established for the secretary of state, pledging to punish polluters, audit private companies and police workplace pay equality at state agencies. Those are jobs already assigned to other elected officials and state agencies. Avakian is pledging to be all things to all people in a cynical attempt to seduce uninformed voters. It's irresponsible.
Devlin, a lawmaker since 1997, is co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee. He's a more honest and genuine politician but, by his own admission, the least charismatic in the race. He's the Serta Perfect Sleeper of candidates: sturdy, but he'll make you nap. He's focused almost exclusively on the audit function of the office, even though the secretary of state is also the chief elections officer, is responsible for overseeing legislative redistricting every decade and sits on the State Land Board. In terms of communication skills or the ability to inspire the public or state employees, Devlin is lacking.
That leaves Hoyle, who rose to the position of House majority leader in 2012 after only two terms in office. She's an aggressive extrovert who worked in sales and marketing for two bicycle manufacturers. Hoyle leapfrogged more experienced politicians in Salem by working hard, speaking bluntly and pushing to get challenging bills such as family medical leave and expanded gun background checks passed. Unlike Devlin, our second choice, Hoyle enjoys engaging with the public and political stakeholders. Too many Oregon politicians are aloof, passive or conflict-averse. Hoyle is none of the above—and the right choice for secretary of state.
Hoyle's favorite food cart: Bacon Nation in Eugene.
Conversation: Brad Avakian
Avakian sent out a campaign press release in April, hammering opponents Val Hoyle and Richard Devlin for taking donations from large corporations.
WW: You’ve highlighted that [your opponents] have taken a collective $10,500 from Altria and Walmart over the past eight years.
Brad Avakian: We did.
You’ve taken $25,000 from oil companies over the same period. How’s that different?
I don’t know which oil companies you’re talking about.
Space Age Fuel, Cain Petroleum, Oil Re-Refining.
Everyone that you are mentioning are close friends of my father; they are longtime family friends. They are local businesses.
So if they are in the oil business, but they are friends of your family, it’s OK?
I think it makes a difference when people who are close to your family donate money as opposed to seeking money from global corporations.
Dennis Richardson • Republican
When Dennis Richardson ran for governor in 2014, his conservative social views—he's pro-life and against same-sex marriage—crippled him. With a squeaky voice and grandfatherly appearance, he never stood a chance to unseat his opponent, Gov. John Kitzhaber—Oregon's version of the Marlboro Man. Secretary of state is a better fit for Richardson, a retired trial lawyer who is analytical and, as a former co-chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, an expert on the state's budget. Serving as the state's chief auditor, which is one of the secretary of state's prime jobs, would be a good fit for Richardson, one of the first lawmakers to raise substantive concerns about Cover Oregon.
He's running against former Springfield mayor and current Lane County Commissioner Sid Leiken. Leiken's background in the dry-cleaning and real estate business served him well at the local level, but he's far less schooled in state government than Richardson.
Richardson's favorite restaurant: Richardson, who attributes his adult-onset diabetes to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, likes Sizzler, because he says it has good salads.
Senate District 21
(Milwaukie, Oak Grove and parts of Southeast Portland)
Kathleen Taylor • Democrat
After one term in the House, state Rep. Kathleen Taylor (D-Portland) now has a virtual free ride to the Senate, thanks to the retirement of state Sen. Diane Rosenbaum. Taylor, 49, a former government auditor, brings useful skills to Salem, and passed bills last session that should sharpen the state's woeful record at collecting monies it's owed. She has token opposition from retired Portland Parks & Recreation supervisor John Sweeney, who has been running for office since 1968. Sweeney, 76, is a nice guy who is still not ready for the Legislature.
Taylor's favorite food cart: Pyro Pizza.
House District 26
(Wilsonville, Sherwood, parts of Tualatin and Hillsboro)
Richard Vial • Republican
Former state Rep. Matt Wingard is hoping to get his old job back after departing at the end of 2012. Wingard left the Legislature in disgrace after an affair with a legislative aide that began when she was just 20. He had previously acknowledged hitting his then-7-year-old son with a screwdriver. When Rep. John Davis (R-Wilsonville) decided not to seek a third term, Wingard decided voters needed to see more of him. We assume his comeback is fueled by the same hubris that drove him from office, but we're just guessing—he didn't attend our endorsement interview to explain his life choices.
Fortunately, voters have a choice between two strong contenders. Davis' hand-picked successor is John Boylston, 35, a trusts and estates attorney, who moved to the district last year and has won the backing of the Portland Business Alliance.
Our choice is Richard Vial, 61, a real estate attorney and farmer, who has lived in the district for 30 years. He's a Republican in the vein of former U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith: a socially moderate Mormon businessman. (Smith has endorsed Vial.) Aside from knowing the district well, Vial has shown that he's no ideologue. He didn't rule out new taxes to address shortfalls in the state's Public Employee Retirement System, and he has the flexibility to work with colleagues and become an effective legislator even as a member of the minority party.
Vial's favorite restaurant: Safeway, for a bag of salad to eat at his desk.
CORRECTION: This endorsement originally said former State Rep. Matt Wingard resigned his House District 26 seat in 2012. In fact, he served out his term and chose not to run for re-election. WW regrets the error.
House District 28
(Aloha, parts of Beaverton)
Gary Carlson • Republican
It's a sign of how firmly Democratic incumbent state Rep. Jeff Barker (D-Aloha) has locked down his district that no serious Republican challenger has bothered to enter the primary. Barker is a former cop who's known as a straight shooter in Salem. His law-and-order but populist instincts are a perfect fit for the future of Washington County.
Attorney Gary Carlson, 75, has a wide range of life and work experiences. He has worked for the Montana Supreme Court, defended death-penalty cases and worked as a labor and jack-of-all trades attorney. His idea to reduce redundancies in Oregon law is a noble goal. We can imagine him as a dedicated if unambitious member of the minority party. He's running against Daniel Martin, an Aloha retiree, and Alton Mozingo II of Beaverton.
Carlson's favorite restaurant: Chart House.
House District 40
(Gladstone, Johnson City, Oregon City,Oak Lodge, Jennings Lodge)
Mark Meek • Democrat
It's a close call in the contest to replace state Rep. Brent Barton (D-Oregon City), who is retiring after three terms.
Steven Cade, 33, an Army veteran now practicing law, is bright and, if elected, would like to tackle Oregon's convoluted property tax system, which he says is inefficient and unfair. Cade has limited political experience, and lawyers are already well-represented in the Capitol.
Mark Meek, 52, a former Hawthorne Boulevard bar owner-turned-realtor, is the kind of independent, small-business owner who's in short supply in Salem. Like Cade, he's a veteran, but he's also served on the Clackamas County Planning Commission and the Milwaukie Design/Development Task Force. Meek is steeped in the struggles of first-time home buyers and would like to focus as a lawmaker on delivering affordable housing more efficiently. Although he's got the backing of most Democratic interest groups, he's independent enough to say he's neutral on Initiative Petition 28, the proposed $2.5 billion annual tax increase. We take that as a sign he's not just another rubber-stamp Democrat.
A third candidate, Terry Gibson, 57, a landscape architect, would like to streamline the regulations governing recreational marijuana sales, but he's less grounded in district issues than Meek.
Meek's favorite restaurant: Lil' Cooperstown in Oregon City.
House District 43
(North and Northeast Portland)
Tawna Sanchez • Democrat
The race to replace state Rep. Lew Frederick (D-Portland), who's moving up to the Senate, attracted two evenly matched candidates with strong credentials. Tawna Sanchez, 54, a social worker, is the acting executive director of the Native American Youth and Family Center. She's a North Portland native and has served as a foster parent to 18 children.
Roberta Phillip-Robbins, 39, works in gang violence prevention for Multnomah County. She emigrated from Trinidad and taught public school in Florida before relocating to Oregon to attend law school.
Phillip-Robbins has a slew of endorsements from unions, while Sanchez has a strong list of individual endorsers. Phillip-Robbins, who is black, first entered the contest to represent the district, which was formed in the 1980s as a way to give black voters a louder voice in Salem. (Before 1982, inner North and Northeast Portland were divided among four districts.) The district launched the political career of Margaret Carter, the first black woman elected to the Oregon Legislature, but also Deborah Kafoury and Chip Shields, who are white.
We're acutely aware of how white the Legislature is, but we'll give a narrow edge to Sanchez, who as a Native American belongs to a group that is underrepresented in Oregon politics. In addition, her experience as a foster parent and an administrator at NAYA gives her insight into the child welfare system the Legislature badly needs in the wake of revelations that the state's Department of Human Services regularly turned its back on vulnerable kids—especially children of color. NAYA, Sanchez's employer, has its own financial and managerial problems, but there are no indications they are her fault.
Robert Andrews Jr., 56, a pastor at St. Jude Church, is also running but can't compete with the other two candidates.
Sanchez's favorite restaurant: Overlook Restaurant on North Interstate Avenue.
Conversation: Tawna Sanchez
Oregon House candidate Tawna Sanchez has cared for 18 foster children since the 1990s.
WW: Can you identify a problem you see and tell us how you would work for a solution in Salem?
Tawna Sanchez: One of the biggest problems I see right this very minute is foster care. In particular, the disproportionate number of kids of color in foster care. It’s a huge issue.
So is it your belief that the Department of Human Services is too quick to separate children, to take them out of the home?
In some instances, yes.
What motivation would they have to do that?
There’s a level of implicit bias and assumption that communities of color are less able to take care of their children. And I’m sorry to say that’s a struggle that we’ve been dealing with for many, many years. We’ve many times seen an issue where children have gone through the system, and children of color end up staying longer than children who are not of color. They end up being transferred to more and more homes. The majority of kiddos are removed—sadly enough—for what they refer to as neglect, which translates easily to poverty. Poverty should not be a reason that people remove your children.
House District 44
Tina Kotek • Democrat
After five terms in the Oregon House, including two as speaker, state Rep. Tina Kotek (D-Portland) has built a reputation for discipline and effectiveness. Unlike her counterpart in the upper chamber—the colorful and emotional Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem)—Kotek performs her job with the drama-free efficiency of a tax collector. She's pushed through major legislation—including a historic minimum-wage increase, family medical leave and an increase in renewable energy production capacity—while keeping a traditionally fractious caucus focused on her agenda rather than internecine squabbles.
Kotek's opponent, transportation activist Sharon Nasset, deserves credit for her yearslong crusade against the now-dormant Columbia River Crossing Project, but she has little room to criticize an incumbent who's delivered on her party's priorities.
Kotek's favorite food cart: Bagel & Box on North Lombard Street. "Best bagels in town," she says.
House District 47
Diego Hernandez • Democrat
Two candidates are vying to replace state Rep. Jessica Vega Peterson (D-Portland), who is running for county commission after two terms in this seat.
Diego Hernandez is only 28, but he already holds public office, serving on the Reynolds School Board. He's come a long way in a short time. One of four sons born to a single mother who worked fast-food jobs and cleaned houses to support her sons, Hernandez has a remarkable life story. During this campaign, his canvassers have knocked on doors of houses Hernandez helped his mother clean. At the University of Oregon, he got involved in the Oregon Student Association, as well as student government and immigrants' rights issues. He's worked for OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon and the Community Alliance of Tenants, and after earning a master's in social work, now runs a new, eight-person nonprofit that seeks to train social justice leaders. Hernandez's opponent, Gloria Ngezaho, a community activist and Concordia University doctoral candidate, did not attend our interview.
Hernandez's favorite restaurant: Chai Thai at Southeast 140th Avenue and Stark Street. "I like to mix the drunken noodles and pad Thai together," he says.
House District 51
(Clackamas, Happy Valley, Damascus and portions of Southeast Portland)
Janelle Bynum • Democrat
Voters in this district are fortunate to have two strong candidates vying to replace state Rep. Shemia Fagan (D-Happy Valley), who's stepping down after two terms.
Randy Shannon is a recently retired city of Gresham engineer who's also served 10 years on the Damascus City Council. He's smart, funny and would bring a deep knowledge of transportation infrastructure to Salem. That's useful at a time when lawmakers are struggling to find new ways to bail out the Oregon Department of Transportation and come up with an alternative funding source to the gas tax, which is an insufficient revenue stream.
We'll give a slight edge to Janelle Bynum, a former General Motors supply-chain manager who owns and operates two McDonald's restaurants along Southeast 82nd Avenue with her husband. McDonald's doesn't get a lot of love from the left. But by working at the intersection of minimum-wage workers and the daily lives of her customers, Bynum would bring a valuable perspective to a Democratic caucus that sometimes appears to lack empathy for small businesses.
Bynum's favorite food cart: Lonchera Brother Express on Southeast 82nd Avenue. She likes the beef Milanesa torta. "It's a huge sandwich, and for $5 you can actually feed two people or have it for lunch and dinner."
House District 52
(Hood River, Cascade Locks and Corbett)
Mark Reynolds • Democrat
A Democrat hasn't held this seat since 2010, when a Republican school board member from Hood River ousted then-Rep. Suzanne VanOrman by a comfortable margin. That winner, Mark Johnson, has since established himself as a competent lawmaker willing to cross the aisle on good legislation such as beefing up charter-school standards and lowering college costs..
In other words, unseating him won't be easy. Of the two candidates in the Democratic primary, Mark Reynolds, 60, is best equipped to mount a challenge. Even his opponent, Walt Trandum, seems to think so. "He's a standup guy who's running for all the right reasons," Trandum says of Reynolds.
A retired teacher, Reynolds worries Oregon isn't preparing students as well as it used to because schools have lost many programs. That's a standard talking point for a Democrat.
What gives him an advantage is his modest record of public service. In addition to teaching, Reynolds has served with the Wasco County Commission on Children and Families, and the Committee of Practitioners for the state Migrant Education Program.
Trandum, a 63-year-old caregiver at a group home for developmentally disabled adults, is running a principled campaign. He's capped campaign contributions at $50 per person.
Reynolds' favorite food cart: Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Hood River.