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April 28th, 2010 WW Editorial Staff | News Stories
 

We’re Impressed!

The candidates we want you to vote for in the May primary.

     
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BODY POLITIC: That’s Metro president candidate Tom Hughes’ face Photoshopped on somebody else’s body.
IMAGE: WW photo collage — Body Model Photo: Matt Wong, Tom Hughes Headshot: Leslie Montgomery

Candidate photos by Leslie Montgomery

We’re impressed.

Really.

We’ve been doing this for a while. Interviewing candidates for office, that is. And over the years, we’ve witnessed a range of human endeavor.

There has been the comical, the inspiring, the inane, the inadequate and the informative. But this election…we’re mostly impressed.

Impressed at the quality of candidates at a time when much of America is so disgusted with politics it’s organizing a tea party. Impressed that the state’s Republican Party seems to have awoken from its slumber and found legitimate candidates to run. Impressed that great candidates have surfaced to run for the often-ignored nonpartisan posts at Metro and Multnomah County.

It made it easier for those of us holed up at WW’s world headquarters for much of the past month, grilling 82 candidates for local, state and federal offices. And now we are done. Finished with the interviews, the additional reporting and best of all, the hours arguing amongst ourselves about our picks for everything from governor to City Council.

And we are ready to tell you who impressed us enough to get our backing. But before we do so, know this: Our endorsements are intended to tell you how to vote.

Does that seem unnecessary to state? Apparently not to everybody. A couple of weeks ago, The Oregonian wrote on its editorial page that its political recommendations are “not intended to tell people how to vote.”

Puh-leeze.

A few things you should know. WW’s endorsements are far more art than science. There is no litmus test of issues candidates must pass in order to win our blessing. What we seek is actually quite simple. We tend to favor candidates who have 1) a basic understanding of the job they want and the body of government where they hope to work; 2) something in their political or professional past that evidences some ability to accomplish something; 3) an ability to think independently and a willingness to deviate from political orthodoxy of any stripe; 4) passion; 5) collegiality; 6) integrity. If a candidate emerges passing five out of those six, that’s damn good.

Our endorsement interviews have developed a reputation over the years as something of an inquisition. We don’t feel that way, but you can judge for yourself. We have posted videos of all our interviews on here.

And when your ballot arrives in the mail this week, please vote based on the recommendations that follow. Hope they impress you.

Statewide

Governor

If this primary were American Idol, it would be a little like James Taylor and Kris Kristofferson showing up to compete.

For the past 24 years, Democrats have held the governor’s office, with Kitzhaber in the seat for eight of those years. And for all but two of those 24 years, either Kitzhaber or former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury served in the Legislature (both were Senate presidents) or held statewide office. Experience? Check.

And, like Taylor and Kristofferson, graybeards pushing new albums, the two veteran campaigners say their talents are just what Oregon needs now.

The state’s challenges are great. The next governor and Legislature will face a projected $2.5 billion deficit before they get sworn into office. There’s also a rickety tax system and the perennial puzzle of why we outpace much of America in unemployment.

Kitzhaber and Bradbury are undoubtedly smart, honest and care deeply about this state. (Roger Obrist, a retired construction worker from Damascus, is also in the race, but not running a serious campaign.)

Then why are we having such a hard time getting excited about either?

Bradbury is a post-hippie enviro warrior and about as decent a guy as exists in Oregon politics. He’s popular with rank-and-file Dems for his willingness to show up anywhere and anytime for the party. In January, the “happy warrior” went door to door on his Segway scooter (it’s how he gets around due to the multiple sclerosis he’s battled since 1981) to help pass two statewide income-tax hikes while other party leaders—including Kitzhaber and Gov. Ted Kulongoski—kept a low profile.

And Bradbury’s personal story is compelling, not simply because of the courage he has shown in battling MS. When he was 9, both parents died in a car crash. After growing up with relatives in Pennsylvania, Bradbury moved to the Oregon Coast in 1971 and worked as a television reporter and restaurant owner. He served in the Senate, including one term succeeding Kitzhaber as Senate president in 1993.

In 1999, Kitzhaber appointed Bradbury secretary of state (yes, we recognize the irony) after Phil Keisling resigned. Bradbury won election in 2000 and 2004. He also ran for U.S. Senate in 2002, losing decisively to incumbent Republican Gordon Smith.

As secretary of state for nearly a decade, Bradbury improved Oregon’s dreadful campaign-finance reporting mechanism, creating a new system that allows real-time reporting, easy searching and far greater transparency.

But otherwise he exhibited little leadership. He ignored abuses in Oregon’s initiative system, such as signature fraud. He was excessively partisan when he oversaw a post-census legislative redistricting in 2001. And as the state’s top elections official, he did nothing about the fact Oregon is one of only five states that places no limits on political contributions. (In fact, in our interview, he said he was concerned that placing such limits might be bad because smaller donations would require candidates to spend more time raising money.)

As a gubernatorial candidate, Bradbury has also been shameless in his pandering to interest groups. He’s promised the state’s most powerful labor organization—the Oregon Education Association—an additional $2 billion for education based on a cockamamie scheme to shrink tax credits. Earth to Bill: Fix that projected $2.5 billion budget deficit—not surplus—even before you give away the store.

To woo enviros, Bradbury pledged to shut down the state’s largest coal-fired power plant without proposing another source of juice. And in his categorical opposition to liquefied natural gas, he shows a willingness to surrender a potential clean alternative source while again proposing no viable alternative.

In fact, Bradbury’s biggest new idea is to create a “Bank of Oregon.” Sadly, that’s a solution in search of a problem and one he borrowed without attribution from Barbara Dudley of the Working Families Party. And oh, by the way, the idea is prohibited by the state constitution.

Which leaves us with Kitzhaber, a former emergency-room doc who represented Roseburg in the Legislature from 1978 to 1992, including four terms as Senate president.

In 1994, he displayed a level of aggressiveness and naked ambition unusual in Oregon politics. Democrat Barbara Roberts was finishing her first term as governor and planning to run for a second. Kitzhaber decided to take her on and forced her out of the race. He coasted to an easy victory in the general election over Denny Smith and in 1998, similarly demolished GOP-er Bill Sizemore.

Kitzhaber has never endured a tough statewide race. And regrettably, Bradbury, who trails him by 30 percentage points in the polls, is not stretching Kitzhaber this time.

In terms of temperament, Kitzhaber is fundamentally a loner, and could not be more different from the ebullient Bradbury. (Kulongoski once famously stated that the difference between himself and Kitzhaber was that Kulongoski “liked people.”)

But that’s just the beginning of the contrasts. Kitzhaber is an innovative thinker who’s often the smartest guy in the room. He’s also arrogant and prone to hubris not shared by other gubernatorial contender in either party.

In some respects, Kitzhaber mirrors Oregon’s values. He is fiercely independent, and his willingness to think of new solutions verges on inspirational. To name a few, his Oregon Health Plan—a bold idea in the 1990s that involved ranking healthcare procedures based on their efficacy and funding them in that order; his proposal to blow out the Snake River dams to save salmon; his wonky Quality Education Model, which painstakingly prescribed the elements of a good education. The fact he maintains Hollywood-worthy craggy good looks at age 63 doesn’t hurt either.

So what’s the problem? In a word, execution. As governor, Kitzhaber and lawmakers rarely found themselves in sync.

His Oregon Health Plan never really worked. Lawmakers ignored the Quality Education Model. And it was on his watch that the Public Employee Retirement System really snowballed into a fiscal calamity. His inability to find any common ground with the Republican-controlled Legislature culminated in five nightmarish special sessions in 2002, leading to Kitzhaber’s remark toward the end of his final term that Oregon was becoming “ungovernable.” It didn’t help that his marriage melted down at the same time, ending in divorce shortly after he left office.

Despite the passage of time, Kitzhaber seems in denial about the gap between the governor that people think he could have been and what he was. Asked to grade his eight years, he gave himself a B+. We suspect he would not be asking for a do-over if he really believed that.

The good news is Kitzhaber seems interested in more than a farewell tour. His brain is filled with ideas—about how to cut healthcare costs by putting a brake on ineffective procedures; about combining K-12, community colleges and higher ed into one K-20 entity; about budgeting in a different way. He has so many ideas it can make a listener’s head hurt.

And no candidate can match Kitzhaber’s independence. In contrast to Bradbury’s supplication in front of Democratic interest groups, Kitzhaber told the OEA to improve teacher performance if the union wants more money. He told enviros that before agreeing to their desires on LNG, he’d need to figure out a way to avoid short-changing employers and low-income ratepayers.

Nobody running for governor can frame the issues facing this state with more intelligence than Kitzhaber. Our hope is that with the benefit of hindsight and eight years away from the political rat race, he will do more than just that.

Governor

For a Republican, there’s never been a better time to run for governor. What does Oregon have to show for Democrats’ 24-year lock on the job?

Dubious distinctions as national leaders in unemployment, hunger, dropout rates. And there’s a looming public pension crisis, as well as the projected $2.5 billion deficit.

The leading GOP contenders are Allen Alley, founder and former CEO of Pixelworks, a Washington County tech company; and Chris Dudley, a former Portland Trail Blazer. Both offer similar prescriptions: more private sector jobs, smarter and less government spending, and leadership in areas to reverse embarrassments like those listed above. Both men say Oregon cannot afford the government Democrats have created; in that they have an odd ally—Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who in his final state-of-the-state speech recently said the state faces a “budgetary cliff.”

We like both Alley and Dudley. Both are pro-choice and, by any standard definition, moderate Republicans—a wing that lost power to anti-abortionists two decades ago. That loss not so coincidentally tracks the Democrats’ rise to control the Legislature as well as every statewide office.

Alley, an engineer, has immersed himself in government’s details since leaving Pixelworks in 2007 to work for Kulongoski (Yep, a Democrat) as deputy chief of staff. After working 14 months for Kulongoski, Alley made a surprisingly strong run for state treasurer in 2008.

As a candidate, Alley has improved dramatically since then. He employs tightly focused anecdotes—such as how he and four friends created Pixelworks with $10,000, and then went on to create thousands of jobs and sell $1 billion worth of flat-panel display screens. He illustrates government waste by picking line items out of the budget and breaking them down. And his experience at corporate behemoths such as Ford and Boeing, at a leading venture capital firm and as a CEO through Pixelworks’ boom and bust give him managerial experience that would help to tackle Oregon’s problems.

Critics point to the fact Pixelworks has shriveled as evidence that Alley is hardly a high-tech genius. Fair enough. Alley should take the blame for some of the mistakes Pixelworks made while he was CEO, including a disastrous acquisition. But it’s telling that some of his biggest contributors are the people who started the company with him. They apparently feel that, in sum, he was a good leader. We concur. And we believe he gets the edge in this race, thanks to his command of details and his style, which is collaborative, analytical and good-humored.

Dudley is more than just a celebrity. He’s got smarts—he graduated from Yale with degrees in economics and political science. And as the first known diabetic to play in the NBA, his 16-year career—three times the length of an average career—shows his tenacity. As a leader in the players’ union (there’s a line you won’t see in too many Republicans’ résumés), he won important court victories against NBA owners. And here’s something else—the fact that the league’s largely African-American players chose him says more about his ability to work with all people than any other candidate’s paeans to diversity. He has parlayed that experience into a budding career in financial services. And Dudley has leveraged his name recognition, relationships and a humble yet confident manner into a big fundraising lead. It’s easy to see why contributors have invested more than $1.3 million so far in Dudley: At 6-foot-11, he’s a commanding physical presence with a good story. The problem is, he’s green…and not in an environmental way.

Dudley knows Oregon needs jobs, but he has no specific plans to generate them. He believes the next governor must shake up Oregon’s nearly 200 boards and commissions with new talent, but is unwilling to identify current underperformers. Asked for an achievement or experience that illustrates his ability to lead the state, he offers a moving story of overcoming diabetes.

That’s a lot, but it’s not enough. We wish Dudley had Alley’s breadth of experience or a better command of the details. Dudley is offering himself up as a Reagan-like candidate who won’t sweat the details but will hire good staff and provide inspiration. That’s a leap of faith we cannot ask voters to make.

There is another well-known candidate in the race—initiative activist Bill Sizemore. We’re aware many Oregonians consider Sizemore to be Voldemort, both because of his oft-stated belief that public employee unions create all that is noxious in this world and because he faces tax evasion charges. That may be true, but even Democrats will tell you (although only on deep background) that Sizemore’s call for reform of the PERS system is necessary if this state is to avoid a California-style crisis.

Also running is former Gresham lawmaker John Lim, 74, who sold his royal jelly company a couple of years ago and seems to be running just to stay busy. Other candidates include businessman W. Ames Curtright, a pro-environment conservative whose campaign literature is more specific on the issues than almost any other candidate; Rex Watkins, a self-described “redneck” from Albany who we think should run again for something a little less ambitious; Darren Karr, the “zero dollar candidate” who is worth every bit of that; Bob Forthan, a DEQ employee who felt compelled to mention his 35 years of pot use; and Clark Colvin, a Bend turnaround specialist with no discernible reason for running.

State Treasurer

Like a referee or cop, the state treasurer mostly gets attention when something bad happens. That’s good, because the treasurer is Oregon’s banker and the last thing a state with perennially perilous economic footing needs is some hot-rodder driving the bus.

The treasurer borrows money for the state, manages its cash and plays a key role in overseeing Oregon’s nearly $70 billion in pension funds for nearly 300,000 current and former public employees.

This past March, when incumbent Ben Westlund died of cancer, Kulongoski appointed Wheeler, then the Multnomah County chairman, to fill Westlund’s seat until the May election. (Republican Chris Telfer, a state senator from Bend, is unopposed in the GOP primary.)

The heir to a lumber fortune, Wheeler is smart, self-effacing and manages to give off the appearance of having no ambition (a trait Oregonians seem to like), even though nothing could be further from the truth. At Multnomah County, Wheeler repaired a brand so damaged it would have made AIG and Enron look blue-chip, showed financial savvy (he paid down debt while cutting the budget), courage (he put a brake on the city’s profligate use of urban renewal money) and efficacy (he figured out a way to finance the replacement of the rickety Sellwood Bridge).

Wheeler maneuvered the tricky shoals of the county without alienating constituents or most of his peers at City Hall and Metro. That collegial style will play well in Salem. Wheeler’s prior experience at Wells Fargo and Copper Mountain Trust give him stronger financial credentials than recent state treasurers.

Wheeler did inherit a mess at the treasury: The Oregonian is rummaging through what appear to be lax travel policies for treasury officials who oversee billions in pension investments. How he resolves the issue will determine whether he is indeed, along with Attorney General John Kroger, in the pack of Oregon’s next generation of Democratic leaders.

It’s unfortunate for state Sen. Rick Metsger (D-Welches) that he’s matched up against Wheeler. A former KOIN sports anchor, Metsger served with distinction in the Legislature for 12 years. And he’s long yearned for a statewide post, placing second two years ago behind Kate Brown in a three-candidate Democratic primary for secretary of state.

In 2009, as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Metsger steered through a 6-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase, the first such hike since 1993. In earlier sessions, he faced off against powerful interests, helping reform the state’s workers’ comp insurer, SAIF Corp., in 2003 and taking on abusive tax practices by utilities in 2005.

Metsger’s a good candidate. But his opponent’s experience, background and potential make Wheeler a better choice.

State Superintendent of Public Education

This office—which manages Oregon’s K-12 system by supervising statewide tests for 560,000 kids and setting high-level policy such as graduation requirements for schools—needs fundamental change.

That change should start with how Oregon picks the person to fill this important post. We think the governor should appoint the state superintendent. Only then will the Oregon Education Association, which has the power and the money to decide this race, loosen its grip on the Department of Education. (As of April 26, the statewide teachers union had ponied up $50,000 for incumbent Susan Castillo, almost half of her fundraising total.)

Our demand for change is amplified by Castillo’s underwhelming tenure at the education department. A former TV journalist and state lawmaker from Eugene, Castillo has served two terms in the job. And now, even though her accomplishments could fit on the head of a No. 2 pencil, she wants a third term. Give her an “A” for chutzpah! The rest of the report card is an embarrassment.

In 2007, for example, Castillo almost cost Oregonians millions after lawmakers discovered she’d mistakenly told local school districts they could charge tuition for full-day kindergarten. That was illegal actually, and Castillo might have known that if she had sought legal advice first. To fix her mistake, the Legislature passed emergency legislation, retroactively rendering her actions legal.

The following year, a Marion County Circuit Court ordered Castillo’s education department to pay $3.5 million to an online testing company the department had accused of breach of contract. ODE is appealing that decision. But if that effort fails, Castillo will have to lean on the Legislature for another major fix. “We don’t expect to lose,” Castillo says.

We hope she’s right. Even if she is, that won’t be the only money that’s disappeared under her supervision. In 2008, one of Castillo’s employees embezzled almost $1 million in taxpayer funds from the department. Although Castillo says the department has recovered most of the money and put in place new accounting protections, we see a pattern here.

More recently, Castillo failed to put Oregon in the running for millions from the federal education grant known as Race to the Top. (Oregon’s application was 35th out of 41 states.) Oh, we forgot—she did help the teachers union in its efforts to curb the growth of online charter schools.

Castillo’s opponent is Rep. Ron Maurer, a Republican legislator from Grants Pass who was briefly a member of the Grants Pass School Board until his term was cut short by military service in Alaska. Recognizing Oregon’s projected $2.5 billion overall gap next year, Maurer rightly wants to make the Department of Education more efficient. He’s open to new ideas about rewarding successful teachers, and he wants Oregon to move faster to connect students’ test scores with teachers’ identities; Castillo says that seemingly easy link will take two to three years.

It’s telling that Stand for Children, a statewide advocacy group that exists only to improve the education of Oregon’s children, is not making an endorsement in this race.

We understand the group’s silence. If any contest tempted us to skip issuing a preference, this would have been it.

In Maurer, at least, we see independence. We admit that independence sometimes sends him in directions that conflict with our values. We disagree with Maurer’s view that teachers with concealed handgun permits should be allowed to pack heat in homeroom. Maurer also says the content of sex education should be community-driven, rather than a state matter. That gives us pause. Finally, he’s torn between faith and science. “I am not a supporter of creationism,” he says. “I am not a supporter of evolution.”

But like a teacher refusing to pass a failing student on to the next grade, we’ve come to the painful conclusion with Castillo that her time’s up. And until the state superintendent’s job is no longer an elected post, we’re going with Maurer this time. The OEA’s power in this case is a plus. The union will keep him in check. It shouldn’t be hard for him to do less damage than Castillo.

Supreme Court Justice

When the Oregon Supreme Court’s longest-serving justice, Michael Gillette, announced last year he was retiring after 24 years, he didn’t take the typical path of stepping down mid-term and letting the governor choose his successor. Instead, Gillette chose to serve out his term through 2010 and let Oregon voters pick his replacement on the seven-member bench. The last time that happened was in 2006.

Two candidates have stepped up to take Gillette’s place for a six-year term. Neither man will help the Supreme Court with its dearth of justices who have trial experience. Nor does either come from eastern Oregon, which will have no one on the bench after the departure of Gillette, who’s from Milton-Freewater.

Both aspirants are quality candidates.

Allan Arlow, one of five administrative law judges at the state Public Utility Commission, has a long career in both corporate and public law. We like his sense of humor and his eclectic résumé, including work 35 years ago at his father-in-law’s straw-making company. His legal writing was clear and showed a mind at work.

That said, our choice is easy. His opponent: Jack Landau, the longest-serving judge on the state Court of Appeals.

After 17 years on the Court of Appeals, Landau has ruled on just about every issue that matters in this state, from land use to the initiative process to mandatory minimums. He’s got a reputation for fairness, hard work and scholarly flair. And he’s not afraid to call bullshit on his fellow judges. He’s been critical of the current Supreme Court for ruling on original intent—the idea we should interpret the state constitution based on what we believe the framers were thinking when they wrote it 150 years ago (nothing like those “storied times” when blacks were excluded from residency). And he chastised the court for its slow pace in turning around cases. We hope Landau can improve a state Supreme Court that judicial scholars in 2008 rated one of the least influential in the nation

City Of Portland

Council No. 2, Citywide

The once-flush City of Portland faces a growing budget gap and a public crisis of confidence in its police.

Yet Mayor Sam Adams has shown no signs of fiscal prudence or any interest in reining in police. He’d rather leave budget concerns to staffers and police matters in the hands of Commissioner Dan Saltzman (more on him in a sec). Instead, the mayor focuses on reducing Portland’s high-school dropout rate—an important job, no doubt, but one that City Hall has little sway over. Meantime, Commissioner Randy Leonard is increasingly erratic, and unaccountable, regularly taking pot shots at colleagues and citizens alike. Sitting on the sidelines is Commissioner Amanda Fritz, powerless so far to reorder these dynamics.

Commissioner Nick Fish, a lawyer and the descendant of a centuries-long line of public servants, entered this mix in June 2008.

Fish’s rookie term has been, in sum, a good one. He’s consolidated aspects of the city’s work on housing, maximizing efficiency when demand is up and tax revenues are down. He’s done important work in finally breaking ground on the contentious Resource Access Center in Old Town where Portland’s homeless will get services starting in 2011. And he showed some steel in his willingness to be in the minority on controversial votes, helping to protect taxpayer money by improving the deal to redevelop PGE Park for Major League Soccer. (We’ll stay big-picture on this one and give him a pass on the fact he and a majority of the supposedly family-friendly council cared less about trying to keep PGE Park available for minor-league baseball, which actually draws decent weekend crowds in the summer months.)

On a more mundane level, Fish has learned to be a better manager. At the end of 2009, he hired a new chief of staff to replace one whom City Hall insiders called ill-suited to the job.

After little more than a year and a half in office, Fish is far less powerful than Leonard, whom Fish counts as his closest friend on the council. And although he suggested to us that he often serves as a counterbalance to Leonard, we think Saltzman more often fills that important role.

We endorsed Fish when he ran for departing Commissioner Erik Sten’s seat in 2008, after two previous failed runs. “He’s honest, has a great work ethic and will be his own man,” we wrote of him then. We still believe that. But we hope a full four-year term will allow Fish to do more than emulate former Commissioner Mike Lindberg, a longtime city commissioner whom Fish admires for having provided cohesion at City Hall.

Fish faces no serious opposition aside from Walt Nichols, chairman of the Mt. Scott-Arleta Neighborhood Association. Nichols has a track record of community involvement in his Southeast Portland neighborhood, but suffers from a first-time candidate’s inability to point us to specific differences with the incumbent. Jason Barbour did not attend our scheduled interview and gives no indication of mounting a serious run. Timothy Youker, a professional clown who says he was once arrested for not paying child support, is also on the ballot.

Council No. 3, Citywide

Dan Saltzman has a long history of inheriting disasters.

In 1999, his first year at City Hall, then-Mayor Vera Katz gave Saltzman the Bureau of Emergency Communications. When allegations surfaced that the bureau’s director was defrauding taxpayers by falsifying time cards, Saltzman ordered an investigation. And in 2000 he supported a successful charter amendment to end civil-service protection for bureau chiefs, making it easier to fire incompetent directors.

The trend of cleaning up others people’s messes continued in 2001, when then-Commissioner Erik Sten lost $40 million in uncollected Water Bureau revenue because of a computer snafu. In response, Katz gave the bureau to Saltzman, who restored some confidence.

Five years later, in the face of runaway costs and outright abuse, Saltzman pushed reform of Portland’s Fire and Police Disability and Retirement system. That didn’t earn him many union friends but should earn him gratitude from taxpayers.

More recently, Saltzman said yes when the mayor asked him to oversee the Police Bureau, which already had a damaged reputation owing to James Chasse’s tragic death in 2006. Months after Saltzman took that job, the police bureau has become the political piñata for Portlanders’ justified anger over two fatal police shootings in 2010 (not to mention a recent stretch of officers’ road-rage incidents that could double as a TV series called Cops Gone Wild).

Saltzman hasn’t always known exactly what to do. He’s made political mistakes as well as procedural ones. When Officer Christopher Humphreys shot a 12-year-old girl with a single beanbag round on a MAX platform in November, Saltzman initially stripped Humphreys of his badge pending an internal police investigation. After hundreds of cops marched on downtown to demand Humphreys be put on desk duty instead, Saltzman acquiesced. In return, the police union agreed not to release the results of a no-confidence vote against Saltzman and Chief Rosie Sizer.

But Saltzman remains an independent voice on the council. More than anyone else in City Hall, he offers much-needed balance to Commissioner Randy Leonard. And while some see in Saltzman a lack of charisma, we see a politician who doesn’t need constant coddling.

Saltzman, an engineer with a master’s degree from MIT, has served three terms on City Council, plus five years on the Multnomah County Commission before that. We don’t believe in term limits, but we might have been convinced it was time for a change—if there was an opponent worth giving consideration.

Mary Volm comes closest. A former city employee of 20 years who most recently was involved in the first effort to recall Adams, Volm has experience and passion for the job. We don’t doubt her sincerity, but we also think she’s unprepared to manage complex bureaucracies.

The next closest surprised us, because we hadn’t known much about him. Spencer Burton, a stonemason, ran unsuccessfully for the California Legislature in 1994 against a then-upstart named Antonio Villaraigosa, now mayor of L.A. (Burton got 6 percent of the vote to Villaraigosa’s 50 percent.) Burton surprised us with his knowledge of Portland affairs, his common-sense approach and his of-the-people message. He reminded us why we like democratic elections in the first place.

And then there’s Jesse Cornett, the only candidate in this race to qualify for public financing by collecting signatures and $5 donations from 1,000 Portland voters. A former lobbyist for Portland State University, Cornett had a lackluster reputation in Salem. He recently moved to Lents, and in September 2009 he briefly contemplated running against Rep. Mike Schaufler (D-Happy Valley). We endorsed Cornett in 2006 when he ran unsuccessfully in a Democratic primary for state Senate. But Cornett has increasingly struck us as a young man in a hurry to find a safe place to land.

Our problem with Cornett this time is that his criticism of Saltzman appears entirely poll-driven and superficial. Cornett hammers Saltzman for his handling of the police, but he professes no desire to tackle the beast himself. More worrisome is the fact that Cornett’s passion is not matched by his command of the facts. He told us he’d like to manage the Portland Bureau of Transportation, but he seemed entirely unaware of Portland’s $650 million backlog of transportation projects when we asked him how he’d fund the Bicycle Plan for 2030. He also didn’t know the size of the city’s general-fund budget—a pretty basic number that any serious candidate should know.

Finally, Cornett’s recent decision to spend $57,000 of his $150,000 in public money on 20 paid canvassers suggests his community support is about as deep as his message.

There are four other candidates in this race. None of them ran a notable campaign.

Multnomah County

Chairman, Countywide

Cogen doesn’t need our endorsement, but he’ll get it. What he does need is our sympathy and good wishes.

Cogen, a former lawyer and bagel-business owner, served as chief-of-staff to city Commissioner Dan Saltzman and was elected to the Multnomah County Commission in 2006 to replace retiring Commissioner Serena Cruz Walsh. He, along with former Chair Ted Wheeler, is the reason we’ve so quickly forgotten the calamity that was the “Mean Girls”—a years-long period of chronic dysfunction on the board under former Chair Diane Linn that hit rock bottom when board members wouldn’t even talk to each other.

One could criticize Cogen for focusing on issues that fall short on the priority meter. He pushed for calorie counts on menus at fast-food chains, taking on the powerful restaurant lobby in the process. He also spearheaded a feel-good plan to put solar panels on county buildings. But there’s no questioning Cogen’s commitment to his own principles, and we believe he has the steel to face the county challenges ahead. After Wheeler skedaddled to the state treasurer’s job in March, the board unanimously appointed Cogen as interim chair—where he’ll get nearly a year of on-the-job training. He’ll get four more with your vote.

Cogen takes charge of a county buckling under massive challenges. The annual budget has faced cuts for each of the past 10 years, putting a strain on vital services the county provides for the poor, the aging and the mentally ill. State money to fill the cracks is running out. And to make matters worse, Cogen also inherits a jail system in need of top-down reform—but with a sheriff’s office in charge that’s proven incurably resistant to change.

Cogen doesn’t need our endorsement given the weak challengers he faces. Mike Darger is an insurance agent from Gresham affiliated with the arch-conservative Americans for Prosperity. And Wes Soderback is a retired merchant marine who demonstrated little understanding of how the county works.

Cogen is a candidate who’s so earnest, sometimes talking to him feels like getting stuck in headlights. Besides that energy, we wish him big luck. He’ll need it.

Commissioner District No. 2, North and Northeast Portland

Choosing among the seven candidates racing to replace Cogen was one of our toughest calls. Our dilemma arose after a game of musical chairs that drew candidates like Oregon Ducks football players learning about a Friday-night fraternity party.

The free-for-all began when Cogen announced he would run for chair to replace Wheeler—on the filing deadline day, no less. There are no wack jobs in the contest, with each legitimately able to claim some level of civic accomplishment.

We were disappointed when candidate Roberta Phillip exited the race April 16, saying she’s better off staying with her policy job in the chair’s office. Fresh perspective, the right experience, high ideals and focused energy have proven a needed tonic for the county board. Phillip had all those qualities.

Of the remaining seven candidates, few fit as well. Gary Hansen, who has served a variety of offices (including this seat for two terms), has a commanding understanding of the county’s basic financial challenges. But his political career began to feel moldy several years ago, and we see no signs of improvement. Tom Markgraf, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), and Maria Rubio don’t offer anything particularly special. Rev. Chuck Currie, a minister in the United Church of Christ, is an effective advocate for the poor but has no experience making decisions inside local government. And Loretta Smith, a longtime aide to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), was eager but brought few ideas to our endorsement interview.

That leaves two relatively young but experienced candidates. Paul van Orden, a noise-control officer for the City of Portland, has government experience and should earn our eternal thanks for running a write-in campaign that we endorsed against former Sheriff Bernie Giusto in 2006. But other than law enforcement and corrections, van Orden’s knowledge of county operations is limited. So instead we’re endorsing Collymore, who has a record inside the county.

As a staffer in Cogen’s office when he was county commissioner, Collymore says she rode herd on long-term projects like opening a new Kenton library branch, opening a one-stop domestic violence center and growing food for the poor on vacant county land. A history of work on gay-rights and pro-choice campaigns gives her progressive credentials. And Collymore’s passion and ambition are unquestioned. If she’s elected, we hope her first months in office will bring her the focus and polish to represent her district effectively.

Sheriff, Countywide

We all love democracy, but choosing a sheriff here is a decision voters simply shouldn’t be making. Eighty percent of the sheriff’s budget goes to running the jails, not policing the streets. An elected sheriff is a holdover from the frontier days. Today we don’t need a cop in charge—we need a national search for a professional jail administrator, supervised by the county commissioners we elect.

We’ve thankfully moved past the days of former Sheriff Bernie Giusto’s shenanigans. But disturbing issues remain at the sheriff’s office, and they’re mostly centered in the jails—overtime abuse, staff dysfunction and financial mismanagement. In what’s become an annual ritual as dependable as the swifts returning to Chapman, a Multnomah County grand jury lambasted jail management last year, singling out the county’s system as one of the most expensive in the nation to run.

Before he hightailed it for the state treasurer job in March, former county Chair Ted Wheeler was preparing to start a lonely and probably quixotic fight to bring jails under direct control of the board of county commissioners. Wheeler’s departure left that issue hanging. Meantime, current Chair Jeff Cogen and a county charter-reform committee have shown little appetite to take another swing at it. Wheeler also wanted to make the sheriff an appointed rather than elective post. That would finally bring stability and accountability to county law enforcement, because the sheriff would be answerable to the county board rather than to the corrections deputies’ union, whose endorsement is a sine qua non for candidates in this race.

With Wheeler gone, no one’s left with the appetite for that fight. So we’re left with an election between Staton, who became interim sheriff last fall after former Sheriff Bob Skipper failed to earn his state law-enforcement certification, and corrections Sgt. Muhammad Ra’oof, who lacks Staton’s experience and acumen.

We don’t doubt Staton’s integrity. But for taxpayers’ sake, we wish we could hire a professional jailor instead.

Metro

President

A long-ago candidate called Metro “the island of lost toys.” The tri-county agency manages a lot of stuff that’s tangible, like the Oregon Zoo, the Oregon Convention Center, the Oregon Expo Center, solid waste (a.k.a. trash) and regional parks. It is also responsible for stuff that’s more ethereal, like transportation planning and the Urban Growth Boundary.

Juggling these disparate responsibilities requires an agile mind and considerable political skills. Fortunately, no other race in the May primary offers a field of such solid candidates.

And that, of course, means a difficult choice.

Bob Stacey, the former director of the environmental group 1000 Friends of Oregon, earned a reputation for being a gifted and sharp-elbowed advocate for Oregon’s land-use laws. In former stops as a chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and planning director for both the City of Portland and TriMet, however, Stacey also earned a reputation for lacking management skills and being a divider, rather than a uniter.

Being a great manager may not be crucial for this job—that’s what Metro’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Jordan does. But being a uniter is—working with 25 local governments in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties to resolve the many land-use tensions that compose the heart of Metro’s role.

Stacey’s strident, take-no-prisoners politics is ill-suited for that work. And there’s no evidence he has much interest in Metro’s service functions such as the zoo and other venues, which actually account for most of the agency’s 762 employees.

Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder, who has represented parts of Portland on the council since 2000, does have experience with those tasks. He also helped found two groups—the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Coalition for a Livable Future—that are aligned with Metro’s transportation and sustainability work.

Despite his roots in those groups, we’re not sure what Burkholder stands for today. Burkholder stunned some allies by becoming an advocate for the Washington and Oregon highway departments’ steroidal version of a Columbia River Crossing bridge (to be fair, Hughes also supports that version. Stacey does not). That version of the bridge, critics say, would encourage sprawl, lead to an increase rather than a decrease in greenhouse gases and cost about $4 billion.

Whether Burkholder’s evolution on that bridge represents pragmatism, as he says, or a sell-out to the business community, as critics claim, Burkholder’s core values are harder to identify than are his opponents’. He’s also a leader in Metro-mission creep, having spearheaded the agency’s funding of Outdoor School, a noble task but one distant from Metro’s core mission.

Burkholder bounced around erratically on the recently completed urban/rural reserves process, in which Metro identified lands for development over the next 50 years. He’s given to claiming credit for others’ work inside Metro and out—as evidenced by a Voters’ Pamphlet claim that he co-founded a recycling company, later recanted—and by the fact that none of his colleagues other than the term-limited Rod Park is endorsing him.

That brings us to our choice, former Hillsboro Mayor Tom Hughes. Juggling a portfolio of responsibilities is akin to an elected executive official’s job and one that Hughes performed well as mayor of Oregon’s fifth-largest city. In Hillsboro, Hughes oversaw an explosion in family-wage jobs. People involved in that boom give Hughes high marks for being a zealous recruiter and matchless salesman. He also mended a fractious relationship between his city and Metro and presided over growth while still being green enough to twice earn the endorsement for mayor from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters.

A high-school teacher for 30 years, Hughes brings an easygoing manner and a reservoir of goodwill with many leaders in Metro’s tri-county service area. That’s a huge asset, because Metro’s Portland-centric, top-down style has often grated on its constituent governments. It’s worth noting that 65 percent of residents in the metropolitan area live outside of Portland in Clackamas, Washington and east Multnomah counties.

Hughes makes a convincing case that he can end the hostility local governments feel toward Metro. And although economic development is not Metro’s responsibility, Hughes’ experience wooing employers is more crucial than ever to Metro’s stated mission: “to preserve and enhance the quality of life.”

With three strong candidates, this race is likely to continue in a November runoff between the top two. That’s a good thing, because a conversation about the tradeoffs between conservation the need for economic growth is one that we’d like to see Hughes and either one of his opponents have.

Council No. 1, East Multnomah County

Duke Shepard is nothing if not versatile.

He’s worked for the Portland Business Alliance and for its polar opposite, his current employer, the AFL-CIO. He helped lead the fight to raise Oregon’s minimum wage, and he helped direct a program for Multnomah County that gave employers fat tax breaks for coming here.

You have to love a union representative—he’s currently the AFL’s Salem lobbyist—who has the guts to oppose one of labor’s pet projects, the long-proposed but now-dormant headquarters hotel for the Oregon Convention Center. The hotel has been a priority for trade unions because of the hundreds of construction jobs it would have created. Who would pay to build it and operate it are of course unanswered questions.

Sharp, energetic and independent, Shepard’s an easy choice to replace the term-limited Rod Park. Also running are Shirley Craddick, a Gresham city commissioner and retired Kaiser researcher; and Jeff Reynolds, a tea party activist who works as a collections officer for a telecom company.

Council No. 4, Washington County

Harrington is a data-loving technocrat. If somebody dropped a brick on her foot, the former Intel engineer would mentally calculate the velocity with which it fell and the brick’s mass, then calibrate an appropriately measured scream.

Harrington, who won election in 2006 to Metro’s Washington County seat, will not need to break a sweat to win re-election.

In an interview, Harrington’s opponent, banker John Verbeek had no idea of Metro’s budget or how many people it employs. And he offers the Chinese model of labor management as a viable option for how to deal with rising costs. All of which means Harrington lacks a serious challenge.

A bike-loving, smart-growth embodiment of Washington County’s increasingly liberal demographic, Harrington served as Metro’s representative to the nearly two-year urban/rural reserves discussion among leaders of the three counties and her agency. The process was designed to defuse the conflict between those who want development and those who don’t.

By the end of the nearly endless string of meetings, Harrington was baring her teeth rather than smiling. But she gets high marks for her effort and for being a tough-minded skeptic at budget time.

Some observers thought wily Washington County Chairman Tom Brian outfoxed Harrington in the urban reserves process. Now it’s up to Harrington to harness the changing demographics in her county to prove she should be one of Brian’s replacements among the power elite.

State Legislature

Senate

District 15, Hillsboro, Cornelius, Forest Grove and North Plains

When WW endorsed Riley in the 2008 general election, we noted that “Riley enjoys the luck of the Irish” because he is regularly blessed with weak opponents.

Riley’s luck continues.

His opponent is Travis Comfort, a pleasant enough 27-year-old AmericaCorps volunteer way too inexperienced in politics and life to ask for your vote.

As for Riley, he is leaving his House seat (though his wife, Katie, is running to succeed him in the seat) after three terms in which he’s voted reliably with his party.

A retired IT consultant, Riley regularly scores toward the bottom in the categories of “effectiveness” and “brains” in our “Good, Bad and Awful” survey, which asks lobbyists, reporters, staffers and lawmakers to rate metro-area legislators. Riley thinks his low scores are “awesome. It means I’m a thorn in some lobbyist’s side.” We disagree and think he’s too focused on perhaps less important—but definitely worthwhile—small-bore stuff like his bill last session to crack down on abusive towing practices.

Not everybody swings for home runs, and we’ll accept that there’s a role for singles hitters like Riley. We’ll say one other thing for Riley; befitting somebody who resembles Santa Claus, he couldn’t be a nicer guy given what we’ve written about him.

And he can show a spine, breaking with union supporters hungering for construction jobs to oppose building a liquefied natural gas energy facility in Oregon. While Riley is amiable and low-key, he will need to junk both those traits in the fall when he takes on Republican incumbent Bruce Starr.

District 19, Lake Oswego, West Linn, Tualatin and Southwest Portland

Mary Kremer, an investment-banker-turned-stay-at-home mother, is making her first run for office following a year working the Legislature on behalf of an online charter school.

Kremer is smart, but her very narrow focus and lack of civic involvement puts her a distant second to Griffith, a lawyer who served two terms on the Portland School Board.

Griffith, whom we endorsed when he ran unsuccessfully for state rep in 2008, also advises the Lincoln High Constitution team and writes wonky reports for City Club of Portland. Perhaps of most potential use to a wannabe lawmaker, he has spent the past 30 years resolving probate disputes among warring family members.

District 22, North and Northeast Portland

This district is heavily Democratic, so we are delighted that not one, but two candidates want to climb this mountain.

Candidate No. 1 is Marcus Tempey, a security guard with Wackenhut. He had a radio show on KBOO 90.7-FM called The Witching Hour in the 1990s until his politics got in the way of KBOO’s, he claims.

We’ll try to overlook the fact his show dealt with paganism, witchcraft and alternative spirituality, or the fact that Tempey, himself a pleasant enough guy, has as his campaign manager one of the most paranoid men we have ever had the displeasure of meeting. Even overlooking those facts, Tempey comes up short next to candidate No. 2, Dwayne Runyan.

Runyan, a retired master chief petty officer with the U.S. Navy for 20 years, wore an American flag tie to his interview. He is a treasurer and past chairman of the University Park Neighborhood Association. Even though neither candidate took the minimum step of putting his name in the Voters’ Pamphlet, Runyan struck us as the more serious of the two.

District 24, Mid-Multnomah County and Happy Valley

We’re not ageist. But everything about the 67-year-old Monroe is old school, from his good manners to a bearing so erect you’d swear he’s squeezing a potato chip in his butt.

He’s one term into his second go-round in the Legislature. His first tour of duty lasted a dozen years through 1988 before he lost a re-election bid to a Senate seat. Undaunted, he then served on the boards of Metro, Mount Hood Community College and the David Douglas School District. Four years ago, he jumped back into state government when then-Sen. Frank Shields, a Monroe buddy, said he wouldn’t seek re-election.

You’d flunk a polygraph if you were to say Monroe was the most exciting guy in the room. But he’s always been a steady party vote and displayed a willingness to show up. During his last session he protected education money for Head Start and community colleges as chair of a Ways and Means subcommittee.

Monroe ranked near last on the effectiveness gauge in Capitol observers’ 2009 “Good, Bad and Awful” assessment. Problem is, Monroe is superior to opponent Dave Mowry, a lifelong Republican who recently switched parties. We suspect the switch is because of Mowry’s desire to find work representing a heavily Democratic district.

Mowry is a nice enough fellow—a former entrepreneur who became a Republican legislative aide after his franchise chain, called “Bagel Sphere,” went belly up. In 2004, Mowry ran unsuccessfully as the GOP candidate in a state House race. He says he converted to the Democratic Party out of anger over the Iraq war. But he made the case with so little passion—in fact, he evidenced little passion about anything—that we weren’t convinced. We’ll stick with Monroe.

Oh yeah. There’s a third candidate, Ron McCarty. He’s run for many, many things (and even served in the Legislature two decades ago). We’ve said before that McCarty’s elevator doesn’t climb all the way to the top floor. He chose not to come and visit us so we could determine if anything had changed.

House

District 37, Tualatin, West Linn, Lake Oswego

Dishonesty dooms any candidate who seeks our endorsement. And if Will Rasmussen didn’t outright lie to us, he came awfully close when we asked him a very basic question in our March interview about how long he’d lived in his district.

“About a year,” the Miller Nash attorney said. “I moved to the district to buy my first house last fall,” he added. Pressed to clarify his “about a year” answer the following week, Rasmussen changed his story, saying he moved to West Linn in September, six months before. He changed his voter registration from Northeast Portland to West Linn in October, and he closed on his new condo in March 2010, not last fall.

Davis is by many measures a better candidate anyway. We hope voters will look past Rasmussen’s slick campaign literature (with pictures of other people’s children) to see that Davis is the smarter, braver and better-informed Democrat in this election. Tualatin residents elected her—an actual longtime district resident—to City Council in 2008. All of her board colleagues have endorsed her election. We think that’s a clear signal Davis is a viable choice.

Gerritt Rosenthal ran for this seat in 2006, when we gave our nod to his opponent. We said then that he “impressed us with his passion for the environment but little else.” Still true.

District 44, North Portland

The House majority whip in 2009, Kotek had a good term. She ranked high in our “Good, Bad and Awful” survey, and Capitol colleagues called her smart, serious and hardworking.

Two of her recent achievements include new rules requiring restaurants with 15 or more locations in Oregon to post calorie counts on their menus. She also pushed a common-sense ban on employers’ using credit reports to weed out job applicants.

Now that federal lawmakers have approved new healthcare legislation, Kotek sees local opportunities for additional innovations during her third term next year. For example, she wants to make health insurance companies in Oregon hand over data on reimbursement rates to spotlight the varying costs of care across Oregon and to help reduce those costs.

Kotek’s opponent is Richard Ellmyer, an activist of sorts on issues concerning the alleged concentration of public housing in North Portland. His crowning achievement is never having met a bridge he hasn’t already burned, according to one scorched adversary.

District 51, Damascus, Estacada and parts of Gresham

Wannabe pols love an open seat the way Kate Gosselin craves attention. And the opening created by the decision of Rep. Brent Barton (D-Clackamas) to run for state Senate has attracted two able GOP rookies to run for this seat. (Cheryl Myers is unopposed in the Democratic primary for the House district.)

Both Sheehan and John Swanson are raising real money, running real campaigns and persuading real Republican legislators to help them. House Republican Leader Bruce Hanna (R-Roseburg) recruited Sheehan to run and has donated $4,000 to his campaign. State Sen. Jason Atkinson (R-Central Point) has contributed $500 to Swanson.

We liked that Swanson, 25, was disarmingly honest about his relative inexperience. He said he was a “glorified intern” for Atkinson during three sessions, and he has lived in the district only since November.

A former state chairman for the College Republicans, Swanson also worked in D.C. for that organization.

Sheehan, though, has a bit more gravitas at age 35. A real-estate agent and design/advertising consultant, Sheehan got his money’s worth out of his communications degree from Washington State University. He spoke much more coherently about spending and taxes than Swanson. And he also scored well on self-deprecation. When we squinched our faces—wind-worn, of course, from all our bike riding—at his revelation that he’s a Hummer-driving Republican, Sheehan recovered by saying, “I’m not just a stereotype. I’m a caricature.”

There’s not much light between the two on many issues. And by GOP standards, neither is a social-issues troglodyte—both are OK with civil unions for same-sex couples. But for Republican voters seeking somebody to articulate any of those views, Sheehan gets our endorsement.

Congress

U.S. Senate

Six years ago, we endorsed Wyden and wrote he “is hardly the most exciting or visionary member of the U.S. Senate.”

We’ll stick with the not-so-exciting part. When he came in for his endorsement interview on a Saturday morning, Wyden gave filibuster-worthy answers to our questions that occasionally made us want to invoke cloture. But we give Wyden credit in his second full term (he moved from the House in 1996 after winning a special election to fill the remainder of Bob Packwood’s Senate term) for progress on the visionary front.

He was out front on health care, introducing his Healthy Americans Act long before Obama took office. Wyden is disappointed the final health package lacked more immediate cost containment. But some of his ideas—regional exchanges, waivers for states to establish their own plans—survived. He deserves kudos.

And he’s reintroduced a proposed simplification of the federal tax structure. We called Wyden “Ron Quixote” when he introduced this tax-code tilting measure years ago, and even he admits it’s got no chance this session. But at least he’s talking about tough issues.

On both the Healthy Americans Act and federal tax reform, Wyden has, horror of horrors, teamed up with Republicans. That may earn him blog blasts from the irrational left, but there is a reason he’s considered to be one of the Senate’s most bipartisan members. While Wyden has evolved into somewhat of a big thinker nationally, he also has paid attention to the knitting at home.

Most recently, he and freshman Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) have held up defense department nominations until a dispute over an Oregon wind farm is resolved. Wyden has also brokered a plan for eastern Oregon forests and been in a cage match with Democratic colleagues from Washington to land a NOAA facility in Newport. Wyden faces no serious competition in the primary: perennial candidate Pavel Goberman, a Russian fitness fanatic whose Voters’ Pamphlet statement is in fractured English (“I will make peace on the Middle East”); and Loren Hooker, whose statement and website are nowhere near as entertaining.

In November, it’s likely Wyden will face Republican Jim Huffman, who we suspect will articulate a good case that it’s time for new blood and that America can’t keep running up the debt. It will be a good debate for Oregon, and for Wyden.

U.S. Senate

This was one of our easiest calls. That’s not because we agree with Huffman’s policy stances on much of anything other than his refreshing-for-a-Republican take that he’s pro-choice. (And he’s good with civil unions.)

Compared with the six other candidates on the GOP primary ballot, however, the bearded 64-year-old Lewis & Clark law professor and former dean of the law school comes off as somebody whose world view at least extends beyond Glenn Beck’s bleatings.

Three of the other six Republican hopefuls—Monmouth real-estate broker Tom Stutzman; Newberg custom woodworker Walter Woodland; and Robin Parker, a Central Oregon business analyst who also runs a tour business for the elderly—showed up for their endorsement interview. We appreciate their presence. But none of them said anything that would give us the confidence they could make Wyden sweat, or even awaken him from a nap.

And while we disagree with Huffman’s opposition to the federal stimulus package and too-casual dismissal of global warming, we are confident he is sharp enough to mount a long-overdue serious Republican challenge to Wyden.

Huffman definitely has the brains and perhaps the fundraising chops to make a case in the general election. The fact Huffman loaned $250,000 to his campaign also should help to convince the national GOP folks he’s a candidate worth watching.

U.S. House

District 1, Northwest Oregon including west Portland and Washington County

In the past, we’ve suggested Oregon’s 1st Congressional District could do better than Wu, who’s seeking his seventh term. In the 2008 Democratic primary, we backed a long-shot challenger named Will Hobbs because he drew a clear distinction between himself and Wu on the issues.

That’s not the case in 2010 with Wu’s primary challenger, David Robinson, a Navy vet and currently a commander in the Navy Reserves. On paper, we thought we might be getting Oregon’s version of Sen. Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat who makes some D’s swoon because he’s got military experience. And Robinson is an interesting fellow who has served in a variety of military capacities. But on policy matters, Robinson could do little to differentiate himself from Wu other than make unsupported assertions that the incumbent isn’t around the district much and engage in a debate over sub-orbital vs. orbital flight that frankly made our heads spin.

Robinson did criticize Wu’s human-rights-first views on China for trumping the need for Pacific Rim trade. But we actually find this the most charming thing about the Taiwan-born Wu, who has been an unflinching critic of China’s human rights policies. In that country, he is considered to be public enemy number one in Congress. Wu’s position has cost him support from major international businesses in his district such as Nike and Intel. (Memo to Wu: Hit up Google for campaign funds.)

Wu also can get stirred up over fundamental questions of civil liberties, like his opposition to the Patriot Act, as well as much wonkier fare like science education for kids. Let’s put it this way—the guy could use a class in social skills. But he’s not Wes Cooley.

We haven’t tracked Wu’s visits to his district, but we do know this: In the trough that is Congress, Wu chases the bacon for the home folks with the best of them. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Wu ranked 30th among 435 reps in fiscal year 2009 for earmarks, everything from $325,000 for public safety radio systems in Astoria to $33.9 million for projects along the Columbia River.

District 1, Northwest Oregon including west Portland and Washington County

This year, there are two viable GOP hopefuls swinging at Wu.

Cornilles is the founder and president of GameFace, a Tualatin company that does sports marketing for 400 teams and athletics programs around the world. Like every candidate this season, Cornilles talks a big game about job creation.

But here’s one difference—he’s actually created jobs in Oregon and elsewhere. We found him smart and studied, though we were troubled when he said Wu is statistically one of the least-effective congressmen in D.C. and when pressed for evidence, he cited “some website” he’d seen but couldn’t give details.

His opponent, John “The Kuz” Kuzmanich, a mortgage broker from unincorporated Washington County, got inspired to enter the race by attending tea party events last summer. Like many tea party activists, he has little going for him except anger and frustration. And as WW reported, the Kuz was twice sued by his former condo association in 2000 and 2001 for unpaid assessments. Yet his website describes him as an “expert in mortgage finance, real estate, economics and job creation.”

A third candidate, Stephan Brodhead, had to look down at his notes to tell us his own name. Doug Keller, a retired Naval officer, is also running.

District 3, east Portland out to Government Camp

Blumenauer needs this endorsement about as much as 82nd Avenue needs another Chinese restaurant.

This bike-riding liberal holds a congressional seat that’s so safe he could be caught naked on the Capitol steps with Storm Large and a can of whipped cream, and the Democrats would still run him. But the man in the bow tie has amassed some very good reasons voters should send him back to Washington for an eighth term.

After 15 years on Capitol Hill, Blumenauer has earned a reputation as a workaholic and an effective legislator. There are currently two good reasons for that effectiveness—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with whom Blumenauer maintains close ties, and President Obama, whom Blumenauer backed early, giving Oregon sway at the White House. He also enjoys the privileges of seniority, including a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Blumenauer’s opponent, perennial Ahab-like candidate John Sweeney, says he’s running only to keep Blumenauer sharp. Good on him—Blumenauer’s mantra of sustainability, mass transit and urban livability is rarely challenged inside Portland’s bubble. In fact, the only time Blumenauer is at odds with his district is when he isn’t liberal enough to please his far-left constituents, like when he sided with Pelosi and voted to fund the Iraq war in 2007. Though he’s famously cantankerous, Blumenauer is an effective ambassador for Portland’s values and deserves your vote.

District 5 Clackamas, Marion, Polk, Lincoln and Tillamook counties

Republicans are slobbering over this race like horses heading down the stretch in this weekend’s Kentucky Derby. The winner of this primary will challenge first-term Rep. Kurt Schrader, who’s unopposed in the Democratic primary.

The GOP figures correctly there’s no better time to take on an incumbent like Schrader. He’s in his first congressional re-election, in a year when history would predict Democrats are threatened in swing districts like this one.

Bruun, a West Linn construction exec who’s been in the Legislature since 2005, is the clear choice. He rates as an overall “good” in our most recent “Good, Bad and Awful” survey and has a moderate legislative record.

Bruun is running against Fred Thompson, a Vietnam vet and retired CEO of a wood-waste energy facility. A happy warrior who’s prone to bromides, Thompson is no match for Bruun.

Statewide Measures

A proposed constitutional amendment referred to voters by the Legislature, Measure 68 seeks to make it easier for cash-strapped local school districts to build and maintain facilities.

Measure 68 would accomplish that goal by doing two things. It would allow—not require, but allow—the state to contribute matching money to local districts that pass their own voter-approved construction bonds. It would also expand the definition of what is an acceptable purchase under a construction bond to include, for example, new computers, textbooks and desks, or major repair work to roofs. (And since durable goods don’t have a life span as long as, say, buildings, the measure would add new, common-sense restrictions that say the duration of bonds for items like books can’t extend beyond the useful life of those items.)

State lawmakers approved this referral by votes of 53-7 in the House and 28-2 in the Senate. In a Legislature where Republicans and Democrats often disagree, that’s as close to bipartisan as it gets.

Voting for Measure 68 would make the above changes possible. Also worth nothing: The measure would cap the state’s contribution to schools at a dollar amount equal to one-half of 1 percent of real-market value of Oregon property.

The Legislature also referred a second constitutional amendment to voters: Measure 69, which deals with how higher-education institutions finance projects. Currently, Oregon’s universities and community colleges can use general obligation bonds to build new facilities. But they must use different financing instruments—with higher interest rates—to buy existing buildings. As a consequence, colleges and universities must spend more to buy existing buildings. This measure would amend the state constitution to end this inequity.

Portland State University offers a fresh example of how this could save money for all of Oregon’s financially constrained universities and colleges. Recently, PSU leased a telephone company’s office building at Southwest 4th Avenue and Market Street while the university remodeled existing campus buildings. Now PSU would like to buy the building.

Under the old rules, the interest rate on the bonds would be half a percentage point higher, pushing up the cost of the project by $2 million. Like Measure 68, Republican and Democratic lawmakers made common cause on this proposed amendment, approving it overwhelmingly.

Candidate Bonanza

Here’s what I learned about how candidates and their handlers treat the little people—ME.

By Phillip Neiman, pneiman@wweek.com

As WW’s receptionist, I coordinated candidate endorsement interviews, and I learned that job can be torturous.

There’s the reconciling and accommodating of candidates’ schedules over the phone and via email to corral candidates into the office for their interview.

There’s the inevitable finagling with candidate intermediaries, the double- and triple-circle-backs, and the aggravation of locking down a date and time for several candidates (we have candidates who are running against each other come in at the same time). In dealing with politicians, I got the chance to learn everything from how they take their coffee to their overall temperament. Here are awards I would give the candidates and their handlers:

Biggest Heel: Jake Weigler, campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Here’s a tip—before you do a snivel-snicker impersonation of me, you should cover your phone with your hand. “He thinks he’s a gatekeeper,” Weigler hissed on his end of the line to someone, who giggled with equal bile, “I actually talked to someone on staff, wow!” Bonus points for exposing a narcissistic self-inflation usually reserved for the candidates themselves.

Mr./Ms. Congeniality: A tie. The honorable Jack Landau, who’s running for state Supreme Court justice. He was patient through many phone calls and kept a chipper disposition, even with (one assumes) a substantial workload as an appeals court judge. Also state Rep. Tina Kotek, the Democratic representative for North Portland’s House District 44. Kotek politely corrected my titular faux pas of referring to her as Mrs. with an elegantly tolerant email response that said, “fyi, ‘Ms.’ or ‘Rep.’ is preferred to ‘Mrs.’—thx.” No, Ms. Kotek, thank you.

Kookiest Guy: With his Wilford Brimley-ish mien and blustery persona, Ed Garren, running against Dan Saltzman, easily wins this award. Garren rumbled into WW’s lobby for a 9 am interview with gusto rarely seen at that hour. When I asked him if he wanted coffee, he pointed to a tawny door to instruct me on his drink’s desired coloration and level of dairy dilution. “Everyone should take a pilgrimage to Cuba,” Garren declaimed. “You can stand a spoon in their coffee.”

Most Awkward/Jarring Conversation Fragment In Our Lobby: Scott Bruun and Fred Thompson are running against each other in the Republican primary for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District. Their lobby conversation began with small talk, but soon moved into hostile territory. They began with an agreeable joke: “Stayed up pretty late last night,” Thompson said. Bruun proffered an amused retort, “Got to give up that partying life.” Bruun then ventured that he’d been bear hunting a few times. When Bruun inquired if Thompson was a hunter, Thompson replied that he hadn’t hunted since Vietnam; he doesn’t kill anymore because he knows what it’s like to be hunted himself.

Guy I least want to meet in an alley: Ron McCarty is a perennial candidate who this year is running in the Democratic primary for state Senate in the 24th District. When I did get in contact with him, McCarty freaked out. “How’d you get my number?” he croaked. I told him I found it on his website. “Oh,” he said, sounding confused and betrayed. He proceeded to rant and rave about a Big Sky boyhood, a pugilistic adolescence and his prior stint in the Legislature, then lamented the fact his eggs were going cold. He declined to attend WW’s “interrogation,” saying, “leopards rarely change their spots.”

Party People

The candidates broken down by race, gender and what drink they like to pound. Also, who they’d like to pound.

From March 25 to April 24, Willamette Week’s editorial staff met with 82 candidates for 25 local and statewide races on the May 18 ballot.

Here’s a breakdown of the candidates by race and gender:

Eleven candidates—or 13 percent of the total—were women.
Of those 11 women, six were black or Hispanic.
Sixty-eight of the 71 male candidates were white. One was Asian. Two male candidates were African-American.

We also asked each candidate three silly questions: whom they’d like to fight, how they got to our office, and their favorite alcoholic beverage.

Here are their answers:

People whom candidates most wanted to fight:

Muhammad Ali was mentioned most, by Metro Council candidate John Verbeek, gubernatorial candidate Allen Alley, Portland City Council wannabe Spencer Burton, U.S Senate hopeful Jim Huffman and Supreme Court candidate Jack Landau.

Sarah Palin came in second, listed by House District 37 candidate Joelle “One Barracuda Against Another” Davis, Portland City Council hopeful Walt Nichols and Rep. David Wu.

The third-most popular hypothetical combatant was conservative initiative king and GOP gubernatorial hopeful Bill Sizemore, who was mentioned by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Bradbury, House District 37 Democratic hopeful Will Rasmussen and Multnomah County commission candidate Chuck Currie. Tying Sizemore was TV host Glenn Beck. He’s the preferred adversary of David Robinson, running in the Democratic primary for U.S. Congress; Travis Comfort, running in the Democratic primary for Senate District 15; and Mary Volm, candidate for Portland City Council.

Sets of primary opponents who drive the same kind of car:

Two. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo and her challenger, Ron Maurer, both drive 2003 Honda Accords. (Castillo’s is beige; Maurer’s is red.) Bill Bradbury and John Kitzhaber both seek the Democratic nomination for governor. Bradbury drives a 2010 Prius. Kitzhaber’s is from 2008.

Number of candidates who took public transportation to their interview with WW in Northwest Portland:

Surprisingly, only one—City Council candidate Martha Perez. She took the streetcar from her apartment in the Pearl.

Candidate with the best idea for a boxing opponent:

State Treasurer Ted Wheeler would like to fight the person who invented the tape that secures CD jewel cases.

Candidate with the most bizarre idea for a boxing opponent:

Tom Markgraf, running for Multnomah County Commission, picked Marcel Marceau. “Don’t you always want to hit a mime?,” Markgraf says.

Candidate whom Ducks and Beavers fans can agree has one good idea:

Metro hopeful Duke Shepard, who listed ex-Washington and current UCLA football coach Rick Neuheisel as the person he’d choose to spend five minutes in the ring with.

Endorsement Videos

WATCH: The candidate interviews at http://blogs.wweek.com/election2010/

 
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