Oregon House of Representatives
District 34 (Washington County, including Cedar Hills, Tanasbourne and Rock Creek)
Ken Helm • Democratic Primary
The incumbent, Rep. Chris Harker, is retiring, and the open seat in this heavily Democratic district has attracted a strong field.
Brian Tosky, who works for an educational consulting firm, brings a strong schools background. Jason Yurgel, who runs a private investigations firm, has deep roots in the district, offers a long record of civic engagement and brings a thoughtful perspective on criminal justice issues.
Yurgel is plenty independent—he’s a rare Democrat who speaks favorably about Oregon’s property tax limits—and in many races would get our endorsement.
Unfortunately for Yurgel, land-use lawyer Ken Helm is an even better candidate. Land use will continue to be one of highest-stakes and most divisive issues with which Oregonians grapple. Helm has represented developers, worked as a staff lawyer for Metro for six years and now serves as a land-use hearings officer all over the state. He’s calm, balanced and brings a particular skill (his expertise in land-use law) the Legislature needs.
Who Helm would be if not himself: The late British historian Tony Judt, whom Helm says was one of the great thinkers and writers of the 20th century.
District 41 (Milwaukie, Oak Grove, Eastmoreland and Sellwood)
Deborah Barnes • Democratic PrimaryThe residents of District 41 are fortunate. Following the retirement of eight-term incumbent Rep. Carolyn Tomei, three credible candidates jumped into this race.
Ted Roe is a labor lawyer passionate about defending injured workers. Kathleen Taylor brings valuable experience as a management auditor who has dug deeply into state agencies as well as local government bureaucracies.
But we’re going with Deborah Barnes, a teacher and union leader in the North Clackamas School District.
Admittedly, we’re nervous about giving the already powerful Oregon Education Association another voice in Salem. But Barnes is an excellent fit for this district. Barnes was a longtime radio reporter who served two terms on the Milwaukie City Council.
She displays a far stronger grasp of her district and its economic base and, frankly, is far more in tune with what Milwaukie needs than her two opponents from Southeast Portland. Her experience teaching in North Clackamas’ skills center has given her a deep knowledge of career-technical education and school funding that could make a big difference in Salem.
Who Barnes would be if not herself: Hillary Clinton. “She never gives up, no matter what happens.”
District 42 (Inner Southeast and Northeast Portland)
Rob Nosse • Democratic PrimaryThe game of musical chairs that began with Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen’s resignation last summer has extended to this state House seat, after Rep. Jules Bailey (D-Portland) decided not to run for re-election so he could contend for a seat on the Multnomah County Commission.
In his wake, a glut of candidates have piled up like the line for beer and popcorn at the district’s Bagdad Theater. The six-way race presents perhaps the most difficult choice in this election.
Let’s start with the easy eliminations. Dan Shaw, a video-game designer and left-wing political activist, is obnoxious and needlessly combative. John Sweeney, a former Portland Parks & Recreation supervisor, is too conservative for his district. Kathleen O’Brien, an adoption lawyer, has big ideas—especially about using legalized weed to fund transportation—but spent more time in our endorsement interview asserting that she was a viable candidate.
That leaves three viable candidates.
Teddy Keizer, a private tutor, is independently wealthy and running a campaign with posters featuring a silhouette of him hiking. He’s eager to tell you about his world records for climbing peaks, a hint of narcissism that troubles us. But more troubling was his difficulty offering specific answers to policy questions.
Don Gavitte is a teacher at Grant High School who has campaigned against cuts to school funding. He’s a welcome addition to election season, and consistently intrigued us with his policy suggestions, such as getting Oregon to adopt a consumption tax and reforming education in the juvenile-justice system. But we worry he’s still too much of a single-issue candidate.
Then there’s Rob Nosse—whose role as an organizer with the Oregon Nurses Association gives him access to union money, making his candidacy almost entirely funded by a single source. That financial advantage clearly rankles his opponents, and gives us pause as well. But while he can be glib and pushy to the point of annoyance, Nosse brings a broad range of experience and greater readiness to hit the ground in Salem.
It’s a tough decision. And while we’d happily vote for Gavitte, teachers are well represented in Salem. It’s Nosse by a nose.
Who Nosse would be if not himself: John Lennon. “He was really trying to do something differently in the early ’70s.”
District 44 (North and Northeast Portland)
Tina Kotek • Democratic PrimaryWe’ll say this for challenger Joe Rowe: It takes guts to challenge a sitting Oregon House speaker.
Rep. Tina Kotek is one of the most powerful women in Oregon politics, and that would normally mean she’s completely unassailable in a dark-blue district. Except Kotek had to eat her words too often. She presided over larger cuts to public-employee retirement benefits than she originally said she would allow, irking her union friends and undercutting her credibility. She also invested enormous political capital in the Columbia River Crossing, only to see that mega-project founder after the expenditure of nearly $200 million.
Both of those issues could provide ammunition for Rowe, but the first-time candidate, a teacher, lacks the political chops and institutional support to give Kotek a serious challenge.
We haven’t always agreed with Kotek, but she’s smart, hard-working and an easy choice to continue to represent District 44.
Who Kotek would be if not herself: An aide to the Dalai Lama. “I’d get to listen to him talk every day, and he meets with a lot of interesting people.”
District 45 (Northeast Portland)
Barbara Smith Warner • Democratic PrimaryAs befits one of the state’s safest Democratic seats, this district pits two dyed-in-the-wool liberals duking it out: newly-appointed incumbent Barbara Smith Warner, a former labor organizer and aide to U.S Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.); and Tom Sincic, a recently retired nurse practitioner.
Sincic is earnest and a longtime activist on public health issues. But he displays a naivete—he told us he’d fill the K-12 funding hole in part by cranking up hemp production and taxing it. He then twisted himself into a pretzel trying to explain why he believes fluoride to be effective but voted last year against adding it to Portland’s drinking water.
Smith Warner showed her political savvy in December, when she legally packed a meeting of the county Democratic party with supporters to ensure she’d be the leading candidate to replace Rep. Michael Dembrow, who moved up to the Senate.
During our interview, Smith Warner struggled to find an example of how she thinks independently of the Democratic Party line and offered an unconvincing defense of her caucus’ heavy-handed attempt in February to exclude the Oregon Supreme Court from its role in reviewing ballot titles. She’s a better option than Sincic but needs to elevate her game.
Who Smith Warner would be if not herself: Oprah Winfrey: She started with two strikes against her—being a woman and African-American—and she’s created an empire that helps others.
District 50 (Gresham)
Carla Piluso • Democratic PrimaryFour years ago, we enthusiastically endorsed Carla Piluso for a seat on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. She ultimately lost to Diane McKeel. Now she’s seeking to replace three-term state Rep. Greg Matthews, who’s not seeking re-election.
Piluso brings a strong public safety background to the job, having served 30 years as a Gresham police officer, the last six as chief.
It takes a tough woman to rise to the top of a paramilitary organization, but Piluso has also distinguished herself in other policy areas, serving on the board of Human Solutions and other nonprofits. She’s also served six years on the Gresham-Barlow School board.
She’s an unusually strong candidate who would be a great addition to a Democratic caucus thinned by attrition. Beatrice Cochran, a medical language specialist at Providence Hospital, is also running but declined to show up for our endorsement interview.
Who Piluso would be if not herself: Eleanor Roosevelt. “She created a serious role for women in government.”
District 51 (Clackamas, Happy Valley, Damascus and portions of Southeast Portland)
Jodi Bailey • Republican PrimaryA political newcomer, Jodi Bailey works for a nonprofit that encourages businesses to use American-made products. That’s fine, but she’ll need to explain some troubling financial history to voters. She and her husband sold their Arizona limousine-rental business to move to Oregon in 2008, then filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection when they couldn’t sell their two homes in Phoenix.
That bailout taught her some Clintonian compassion—she actually said of voters in her endorsement interview that she “felt their pain.” But she can’t identify a single business regulation in Oregon that she’d like to see changed. Instead, she leans on a platform favoring more government subsidy for manufacturing, which feels like a talking point recycled from local chambers of commerce.
Bailey deserves credit, however, for bucking her party on same-sex marriage: She says she would probably vote to legalize it.
Her opponent, Brandon Miles, didn’t show up for our endorsement interview. His campaign’s Facebook page shows him standing in front of the Oregon State Capitol with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.
Shudder, then vote for Bailey.
Who Bailey would be if not herself: “I don’t know that I would want to be anybody else.”