Last week’s Oregon primary set up a number of story lines for the November general election.
So before you tune out for the summer, here’s what to watch when you check back into politics this fall.
1. PORTLAND PUBLIC FINANCING: Jesse Cornett may be gone. But he won’t be forgotten. Cornett, the only city candidate in the May 18 primary to qualify for public financing, flamed out when he finished a distant third last week to Commissioner Dan Saltzman, with just 8 percent of the vote. Cornett got $145,000 in taxpayer money. And public financing opponents will trot out his dreadful showing when Portlanders vote whether to continue publicly financed political campaigns this November. Commissioner Amanda Fritz, the only non-incumbent to win as a publicly financed candidate in the program’s five-year history, will push back. “It gives candidates a chance,” says Fritz, who says she wouldn’t have run in 2008 without money from “voter-owned” elections. Supporting the other viewpoint: Portland Business Alliance, The Oregonian’s editorial board and Commissioner Randy Leonard.
2. GOVERNOR: The race between a once-was like ex-Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, and a never-was like Republican Chris Dudley screams for a third-party candidate to awaken voters. It’s happened twice in the past two decades. In 1990, conservative independent Al Mobley cost Republicans the gubernatorial election. And the same thing occurred in 2002 with Libertarian Tom Cox. In each case, those third-party candidates got more votes than the difference between the two major-party gubernatorial candidates. Could it happen again in 2010? Millionaire Soloflex founder Jerry Wilson hopes to run as the Progressive Party candidate, and mega-lobbyist/attorney John DiLorenzo Jr. has also made noise about running this fall. Wilson has done little so far other than post on his blog and show up at a Salem City Club event. But he could upset the balance if he tapped even a fraction of his $20 million to $50 million net worth. “I’m still keeping my cards close,” Wilson says. “I won’t throw in until close to the end.” As for DiLorenzo, who’s advocating a sales tax for health care, he plans to decide very soon whether to run.
3. TEA PARTY: The tea party fever that exists in states such as Kentucky, Utah and Florida will spare Oregon this fall. While a few tea party-ish candidates did run in contested primaries—all of them lost to less conservative opponents, with the exception of Mary Kremer. She beat establishment lawyer Steve Griffith. In a GOP state Senate primary, in fact, incumbents did well statewide last week. That list includes Eastern Oregon state Reps. Bob Jenson and Greg Smith, who were targeted by some Republicans for putting tax-increasing Measures 66 and 67 on the January ballot. That absence of incumbent-bashing should comfort a quasi-incumbent like former Gov. Kitzhaber in his race.
4. CONGRESS: The congressional race to watch will be the attempt by Republicans to unseat first-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader. The reasons are threefold. First, Schrader’s Willamette Valley district is the most evenly split in Oregon—40 percent registered Democrats, 35 percent registered Republicans and 25 percent unaffiliated with either party. Second, incumbents are usually most vulnerable in their first re-election bid, and the National Republican Congressional Committee knows this, sending out news releases attacking Schrader seemingly since the moment he got to Congress. And third, the GOP has a good candidate in state Rep. Scott Bruun, a moderate unlikely to remind anybody of Rand Paul. And if polls this fall suggest any sign of a national GOP landslide, the other Oregon congressman who will worry is U.S. Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.), who faces well-heeled GOP challenger Rob Cornilles.
5. STATE LEGISLATURE: With Democrats enjoying what Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day) calls “stomping majorities” in the state House (36-24) and Senate (18-12), several metro-area races will be battlegrounds. These include Clackamas County’s Senate District 26 (Democratic state Rep. Brent Barton vs. Republican Chuck Thomsen) and District 20 (Democratic Sen. Martha Schrader vs. Republican Alan Olsen), District 19 in Southwest Portland and stretching into Clackamas County (Senate Majority Leader Richard Devlin vs. Republican Mary Kremer, whose husband Rob’s connections to mega-donor Loren Parks may mean big bucks for her), and Washington County’s District 15 (Republican incumbent Bruce Starr vs. Democratic state Rep. Chuck Riley).
On the House side, the metro-area races to watch are in Washington County’s District 29 (Democrat Katie Riley, Chuck’s wife, vs. Republican Katie Eyre Brewer) as well as in east Multnomah County’s District 51 (Democrat Cheryl Myers vs. Republican Patrick Sheehan) and District 52 (Democratic state Rep. Suzanne VanOrman vs. Republican Mark Johnson).
The Washington County races (Senate 15 and House 29) are especially interesting, given that conservative Andy Duyck won the county chair last week with surprising ease in what’s supposedly a county that’s gone away from its long-ago Republican roots.
6. METRO: The runoff to succeed term-limited Metro President David Bragdon will be a huge test of enviros’ power. Advancing from last week’s primary are Bob Stacey, past director of the land-use group 1000 Friends of Oregon, and ex-Hillsboro Mayor Tom Hughes. The two will split backing from well-funded unions—Hughes getting support from the building trades and Stacey backed by public employees. And that leaves the environmental community. Stacey got nearly $15,000 in the primary from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters.
7. INITIATIVES: Weed all about it—supporters of an initiative to let medical marijuana patients buy pot from dispensaries (rather than the current system, in which they grow it themselves or designate growers) will probably qualify for the November ballot. And backers of pot legalization may also, arguing that “we can tax it and make some cash” for a state that’s expected to face a $2.5 billion deficit in 2011.