Voter's Guide 2014: Kind of Blue

What's a free-thinking voter to do in a one-party state?

It doesn't matter which office is involved, although the bigger ones—governor, U.S. Senate, even the occasional mayor's race—have a lot more juice.

We anticipate election season not just for the thrill of a good story but also because an intense debate helps focus the public on the issues that matter to Oregonians.

But there's a rising tide submerging the debate as we head to the 2014 election. In the ocean, a red tide is deadly. In Oregon politics, the paralyzing tide is blue.

Republicans haven't won a statewide race since 2002, and have lost every campaign for governor since 1986. Democrats in Oregon have an 8-point advantage over Republicans in party registration, yet that doesn't explain the lopsided results.

Both parties are losing ground, but the number of Republicans in the state (30 percent of voters) is now lower than non-affiliated and minor-party voters combined (32 percent). Non-affiliated voters tell pollsters they lean toward Democratic candidates. What's more, the D's have a far better get-out-the-vote operation than the GOP.

The values this newspaper has worked to uphold since its founding 40 years ago are more often reflected in the agenda of Democrats, who tend to be better for women, better for civil rights, better for the environment.

But not everything that comes out of Democrats' mouths sits well with us—not even close. And there is plenty that Republicans have to offer that deserves a place in our civic conversation. Meanwhile, the Portland area's heavy Democratic registration has effectively drowned out rural Oregon in statewide debates.

In making our endorsements, we seek candidates who not only hold to progressive ideals but also are willing to act independently of party doctrine. We believe the quality of ideas in the public arena gets stronger with more debate, not less.

What voters lose out on in a one-party state is accountability: With Democrats dominating statewide offices and the Legislature, insulating and protecting each other, there are fewer checks and balances.

You could blame Republicans for not fielding better candidates. And we do. But that's like saying the Washington Generals always lost to the Harlem Globetrotters because they lacked a strong point guard.

In Oregon, the game is tilted left, and it's increasingly difficult to find quality Republican candidates. The best the GOP could heave up this year to challenge the highest-profile Democrats on the ballot, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and Gov. John Kitzhaber, are not serious options for Oregon.

The lack of competition has allowed Merkley to shine. Kitzhaber, alas, has not.

The best debates this year have come in the campaigns of ideas—otherwise known as ballot measures.

Our endorsements weigh in on the seven statewide measures, dealing with such issues as marijuana, GMOs and changes to the way we run our elections, and three local ones that address schools, land-use planning and city parks. On top of that, there's a truckload of legislative races that connect statewide issues to our neighborhoods.

A note on how we make our endorsements: Candidates in a race (or advocates on either side of ballot measures) make a joint appearance in our office, where they answer questions in front of God and everyone. (That is to say, we make a video that you can see at wweek.com.) We grill them, and cap the interview with a question we think is fun and illuminating. This year's query: What's your guilty pleasure?

We hope our endorsements will inform you. Some will surprise, and others may even offend.

So mark your ballot for the Nov. 4 election in the optimistic spirit of the season.

We only hope the experience leaves you better off than how this season has left us feeling: kind of blue.



{::PAGEBREAK::}

Governor

John Kitzhaber, Democrat

Let's make one thing clear: This newspaper cannot endorse Dennis Richardson for governor. 

Richardson is a congenial Republican from Central Point, a retired lawyer and Vietnam War helicopter pilot with ample legislative skills and a keen eye for state budgets. In five terms in the Oregon House, he's shown himself to be smart, hard-working—and deeply out of touch.

He has proposed very little to make his case that he should be governor, aside from the fact he's not the incumbent, Democrat John Kitzhaber.

Richardson says his top priority would be to appoint a lieutenant governor and launch lots of trade missions to help build Oregon's economy. Until Richardson brought it up, no one knew the state needed another executive in the governor's office or more overseas junkets.

His shallow reform ideas look brilliant, however, next to his political beliefs. On environmental issues, Richardson displays a rote resource-extraction mentality. He's correct that our schools need improving and high-school dropout rates are too high. But his ideas to move away from state standards are retrograde and empty.

Richardson's views on social issues are troubling. He holds rigid positions against protecting a woman's right to make her own reproductive choices. And he's no friend of gay rights. Richardson once went so far as to equate a multiple-victim shooting on a college campus with the "tragedy" of same-sex marriage.

A governor should speak to the expansive spirit of Oregon. Richardson speaks instead to a narrowing, reactionary audience.

Oregon needs a governor who faces the future. That's always been one way to describe John Kitzhaber: forward-thinking, progressive, inventive. 

Four years ago, we could not have predicted that the adjectives to describe Kitzhaber in 2014 would also include bumbling, slippery, dishonest.

But they do.


Anybody who's ever heard Kitzhaber speak knows he's a man of ideas. Fueled by a first-class mind, the former emergency-room physician has repeatedly diagnosed complex problems and prescribed creative ways to solve them.

Kitzhaber served as Oregon governor from 1995 to 2003, two disappointing terms defined by the gap between his big ideas and his failure to see them through. When he sought to reclaim the governorship four years ago, WW raised concerns about a Kitzhaber 2.0. 

"He was more interested in being right than successful," we wrote of his track record as governor in our 2010 endorsement, "and that despite all his smarts, he lacks the people skills to translate his ideas into action."

For a while there, it looked as if we might get an improved Kitzhaber. In 2011, he proposed and won an overhaul of Oregon's education system.

In 2013, Kitzhaber pushed through sweeping changes to the Public Employees Retirement System, no small feat since it meant running over the very public employee unions that fill Democrats' campaign chests and fueled Kitzhaber's win in 2010.

And he returned as more pragmatic on economic and jobs issues. Kitzhaber once sported a "Hayduke Lives!" bumper sticker on his SUV but now embraces the Oregon Business Council agenda as his own.

His passion has always been health care. He's a budget alchemist who persuaded the feds to lift Oregon out of a fiscal crater in 2011. His pledge to deliver health care more efficiently through a rationing mechanism called "coordinated care organizations" yielded $1.9 billion in federal funding when Oregon needed the money to stay afloat. His Medicaid expansion has provided health insurance to more than 340,000 new enrollees this year.

That's the Kitzhaber we had hoped for.

Then there's the Kitzhaber we have to live with.

In the dumpster fire known as Cover Oregon, Kitzhaber was so disengaged he allowed his people to squander $252 million, blame the contractor and trigger a federal criminal investigation.

He put the school reforms so dear to him in the hands of education czar Rudy Crew, who touched down in Oregon only long enough to collect speaking fees and abuse his expense account before splitting town. Kitzhaber then shirked responsibility by blaming Crew's hiring on a committee.

Meanwhile, Kitzhaber has put the governor's office up for sale. He named as his top adviser on the Columbia River Crossing the chief consultant for the project's biggest contractor. Patricia McCaig walked off with $553,000 for a project that never got built. Kitzhaber then concealed that she was working for his re-election campaign and running damage control for Cover Oregon.

Kitzhaber brushed aside ethics concerns as first lady Cylvia Hayes shook down advocacy groups for consulting contracts, directed state workers to handle her private business, and traded on her unofficial title and proximity to the governor for her own benefit.

The governor allowed Hayes to violate the spirit if not the letter of Oregon ethics law. He insists he held Hayes to the highest ethical standards. But his staff had to lower the bar and tailor ethics guidelines to suit Hayes' questionable behavior. Meanwhile, his staff knew that if any of them had tried to pull off even one of the inside deals Hayes got away with, they would have been fired in a second.

Kitzhaber has asked the Oregon Government Ethics Commission—a chihuahua among watchdogs—to review Hayes' contracts and declare whether she's even subject to the state's ethics laws. That's rich. Kitzhaber's office had always maintained that Hayes, as an unpaid policy adviser on his staff, was subject to ethics laws—until now, that is, when the laws have suddenly become inconvenient.

Surrounded by a coterie of trembling Democratic officials and enablers, Kitzhaber has rejected calls for an independent investigation. In Kitzhaber's mind, neither he nor Hayes has anything to answer for.

In a one-party state, accountability is just another word for nothing left to steal.

Kitzhaber has stooped to playing the gender card. He accuses critics of being "afraid of powerful women." Gender is not the issue here. Kitzhaber has condoned improper behavior and wants us to sit mute because the actors happen to be female. Meanwhile, he ducks responsibility while letting McCaig and his fiancee take the heat. It's cowardly. 

Kitzhaber also argues, disingenuously, this is about whether Hayes should have her own career independent of his. No one has ever argued she shouldn't. It's Kitzhaber who has denied her that dignity. He folded her career into his, blurred ethical lines and then stood by as she cashed in. The irony is that if Hayes had pursued a career independent of his, neither she nor the governor would be in legal or political jeopardy today.

Thirty years ago, U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) was in the midst of one of the most remarkable political careers in Oregon history. It was 1984 when journalists learned Hatfield had escorted a Greek businessman named Basil Tsakos through the halls of the U.S. Capitol.

Tsakos was seeking to build a trans-African oil pipeline while at the same time paying Hatfield's wife, Antoinette, a $55,000 real-estate commission for hardly any work at all.

Hatfield's first defense was to fire back at his critics by saying his wife had a career independent of his as a senator.

But with the threat of a Senate Ethics Committee and FBI investigation swirling, Hatfield quickly realized that dodge wouldn't convince anyone. He returned from D.C., apologized for what happened and donated Tsakos' money to charity. His reputation recovered.

Hatfield saw his mistake and showed humility. Kitzhaber has not.


A newspaper is under no obligation to offer endorsements in political races. When we do, though, we should be willing to make the hard choices. It's intellectually dishonest to take a dive and say "none of the above." Yes, at times we have to choose between crummy candidates. But that's a dilemma as old as democracy itself. 

And yet, we came close to endorsing no one in this race. Minor-party candidates on the ballot include Aaron Auer of the Constitution Party, Libertarian Paul Grad, Progressive Party candidate Chris Henry, and the Green Party's Jason Levin. None is a serious alternative.

And we knew that rejecting both major-party candidates would be seen as a tacit stamp of approval for Richardson. As we have said, granting Richardson any form of an endorsement is something we cannot do.

What has been stolen from us in this campaign is not just trust but a moment of grace. The election of an Oregon governor should be an opportunity to lift our spirits, not break our hearts.


 

{::PAGEBREAK::}

United States Congress

U.S. Senate

Jeff Merkley, Democrat

At a time when Obamacare and Cover Oregon are front-page issues, Wehby seemed to have relevant expertise.

Her gender was a plus for a party that's struggled to attract female voters, and her work in Oregon and nationally with the American Medical Association provided a policy background and a killer fundraising network.

But Wehby went up in flames before the general election campaign even started.

On May 16, voters learned from Politico that a former boyfriend, Andrew Miller, CEO of Stimson Lumber, had last year filed a police report alleging Wehby stalked him and entered Miller's West Hills home without permission.

A second police report said Wehby's former husband had earlier summoned police after they got into a dispute.

Such damaging personal information would be hard to overcome even if Wehby had run an otherwise stellar campaign. She has not.

Her inability to answer simple questions troubled us in the primary election, when we endorsed state Rep. Jason Conger (R-Bend). Wehby's stance on a woman's right to make her own reproductive choices has been difficult to pin down, although since the Republican primary she's made a left turn toward a pro-choice position.

Wehby's performance in the general election campaign has been one misadventure after another. She has worked off a GOP script that she seems to barely understand and twice got caught plagiarizing the one thing that should have been a strength—her plans for reforming health care.

Wehby has repeatedly run from media scrutiny. She ducked the traditional televised debate for statewide candidates sponsored by KGW and The Oregonian, offering excuses about scheduling. And she pulled a no-show at WW's endorsement interview, which was held at a date and time set to meet her specific request.

Her strategy consisted of letting the Koch brothers and other big-money attack dogs dust up Merkley with negative advertising.

The smoking wreckage that is the Wehby campaign has denied Oregonians the debate they deserve.

But it's also allowed a clearer look at Merkley's first term in the Senate. We like what we have seen.

In the tradition-bound Senate, most freshmen struggle to make a mark. Merkley has produced real results.

Merkley, who still lives in a part of outer Southeast Portland that most politicians visit only for photo ops, is shaping up as a successor to the late U.S. Sen. Wayne Morse (D-Ore.) as the conscience of his caucus. He has taken courageous stands that have pitted him against his party leaders, including President Obama.

We've heard a lot of about the "war on women" during this campaign, but Merkley can legitimately claim credit for one of the biggest equity breakthroughs in the Obama administration: the naming of Janet Yellen as the first female chair of the Federal Reserve.

Yellen's appointment came after Merkley led the opposition to Obama's first choice, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. Merkley railed against Summers' close ties to Wall Street and what he saw as Summers' culpability in the financial collapse of 2007.

Merkley also upset party leaders on both sides of the aisle with his surprisingly successful attempt to end abuses of the filibuster, the archaic device senators have used to makes sure little gets done in Washington, D.C.

Merkley pushed for the creation of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and led the charge to stop banks from gambling billions of federally insured deposits through proprietary trading desks.

Merkley grew up in Myrtle Creek and Roseburg, two towns that share little politically with his adopted hometown of Portland. But he understands the fabric of Oregon perhaps more than any other politician representing our state in Washington.

Most of all, he represents the candor and independence that Oregonians value.

Also in the race, but not offering serious alternatives: Constitution Party candidate Jim Leuenberger, a lawyer; Pacific Green Party candidate Christina Lugo, an artist; and Libertarian Mike Montchalin.

Merkley's guilty pleasure: Reading sci-fi and, recently, the Game of Thrones books.


U.S. House of Representatives

1st Congressional District

Suzanne Bonamici, Democrat

She earned a solid reputation for integrity, common sense and grit in her nearly five years as a state legislator, and has moved seamlessly to the U.S. House of Representatives.

In Congress, Bonamici has spent a good deal of her time on topics key to her district, including maritime issues, but she's also sought legislation to help consumers and expand job retraining programs. She's also focused on education reform, while skeptical that we need more mandated testing of students.

Bonamici claims she doesn't apply a liberal litmus test to her votes, but her record is one of the most left-leaning in Congress. Her district stretches from the Pearl District to the Oregon Coast and is home to some of the state's biggest and most trade-dependent names: Columbia Sportswear, Nike, Intel. Her voting record is nearly 100 percent pro-union. She says the only time she crosses labor is when she pushes back on free-trade issues.

Her Republican opponent is Jason Yates, a customer-service manager for a Newberg pest-control business. Yates was inspired to run last year because of the hairy-knuckled rhetoric of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) during the shutdown of the federal government during a congressional budget impasse.

Yates says that, if elected to Congress, he would study the U.S. Constitution before every vote and refuse to support any bill that is not explicitly authorized by it. If he'd been in Washington during the budget shutdown, Yates adds, he would have made every member of Congress go through the same civics lesson before they would have been allowed to vote to reopen the government.

Libertarian James Foster dislikes government using its power to distort markets and create winners and losers. Steven C. Reynolds, representing the Green and Progressive parties, is also on the ballot.

Bonamici's guilty pleasure: "I have this game on my phone called Threes! It's a numbers game—I just enjoy playing it maybe a little too much."


3rd Congressional District

Earl Blumenauer, Democrat

The 3rd District of Oregon has for decades been one of the safest Democratic seats in Congress. The lack of competition has given Earl Blumenauer a congressman-for-life aura. His long-held support for legalizing marijuana has put him on the forefront of the pot debate. There are few congressional seats safe enough in the U.S. to allow the incumbent to run around calling for legal weed without concern for voter backlash.

We like Blumenauer's thoughtful approach. He promoted livability and sustainability long before it was fashionable. He's one of Congress' most progressive members when it comes to alternative transportation (that is, anything but cars). He's also been consistent in calling for cuts in defense spending.

We agree with his frustration that there has been little progress in the cleanup of the Superfund site in the Willamette River where it flows through Portland Harbor. But his coziness with the companies that are on the hook for cleaning up the harbor has troubled us. Blumenauer has championed the cause of one of these polluters, NW Natural, whose general counsel, Margaret D. Kirkpatrick, is Blumenauer's wife ("Muddy Waters," WW, Sept. 18, 2013).

Blumenauer said then if he wasn't doing his job on the Superfund, "then you should go ballistic and roast me." We're not going ballistic. We just wish he'd face up to the appearance of conflicts of interest his actions create.

In our endorsement interviews, James Buchal, a Republican also flying under the Independent and Constitution party flags, and non-affiliated candidate David Walker attacked Blumenauer for being part of a Washington establishment they say serves itself more than Americans. Pacific Green Party candidate and retired teacher Michael Meo denounced Blumenauer for not doing enough to stand up against Israel's aggression during its recent assault on Gaza. Libertarian Jeffrey Langan is also on the ballot.

Blumenauer's guilty pleasure: Salt & Straw ice cream.


5th Congressional District

Kurt Schrader, Democrat

The 5th runs from the Cascades to the Pacific, and from the gated driveways of Lake Oswego to the farms south of Salem. You'd need someone who can connect with the valley's agrarian base, vote progressively when necessary, and all the while express skepticism about big government. You'd have a congressman like Kurt Schrader.

Schrader is a Canby veterinarian and farmer who during his 12 years in the Oregon House and Senate earned a reputation as a practical, effective and often rough-hewn lawmaker. He's seeking his fourth term representing the 5th District.

The business-friendly Schrader is a player in two centrist groups in Washington, D.C.: the budget-conscious Blue Dog Democrats and the nonpartisan advocacy group No Labels.

Schrader's major accomplishment is his partnership with Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.) on a bill to lock in a sustained timber cut of the former Oregon and California Railroad lands. These federal woods provide revenue to counties, but a shrinking harvest over the years has hurt local services. The plan passed the House. Environmentalists dislike the plan, which is under a veto threat from President Obama.

Schrader's Republican opponent is Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith, who was elected to the nonpartisan county board in 2012 as part of a GOP insurgency against light rail and other outrages that conservatives in "Clackistan" call "Portland creep."

Smith, who also served two terms in the Oregon House from Molalla, has deep roots in the district going back generations. She represents the angst and frustration toward the U.S. government's management of natural resources.

Timber, fishing, agriculture—the troubles in these industries, as Smith relates it, are all tied to federal policies designed to serve environmentalists, not the people who rely on the land and water for a living.

Smith's overall solution is to put federal lands under the control of state and local government. Schrader agrees that local control might bring better management of natural resources, but says that thinking it will ever happen in our lifetime is folly.

Whether you agree with either of them, both are refreshingly blunt: Smith's views all but rush out of her, and Schrader is a bare-knuckler. They both provide an antidote to the state's passive-aggressive style of politics. But it's Schrader whose moderate alignment and pragmatism best fits the 5th District.

The race also includes Constitution Party candidate Raymond Baldwin, who says Schrader has not done enough to curtail U.S. military actions; and Independent Marvin Sannes, a 9/11 truther who decries the nation's spiritual decay and shares Baldwin's views that America's wars are too costly. Libertarian Daniel K. Souza didn't make it to the endorsement interview.

Schrader's guilty pleasure: "I love brownies. I have brownies for lunch."


 

{::PAGEBREAK::}

Statewide

Oregon Senate

15th District (Hillsboro, Forest Grove, North Plains)

Bruce Starr, Republican

Although Starr, a communications consultant, remains a pro-life social conservative, he's proved to be a moderate in other areas. In 2013, he broke with his caucus to support a ban on suction dredging in rivers and to support a carbon tax study bill.

When Democrats needed a couple of Republican votes at the end of the 2013 session for a package of public pension cuts and corporate tax increases, Starr alone among Senate Republicans was willing to vote for the package. When nobody else in his caucus joined him, he withdrew his support. But his willingness to vote for a tax increase showed pragmatism often missing in Salem.

Starr ran for state labor commissioner in 2012 and seemed dispirited after losing to incumbent Brad Avakian. But Starr renewed his focus last year in transportation and economic development. He liked the Columbia River Crossing project a lot more than we did.

Challenger Chuck Riley, a former three-term state representative from Hillsboro, is challenging Starr as he did in 2010. In his final term in the House, Riley was the lowest-ranked House Democrat in our "The Good, the Bad and the Awful" survey. Today, Riley is as bereft of ideas, independence and energy as any candidate we've seen this fall.

Starr's guilty pleasure: The follicly challenged Starr likes to get a head massage, shampoo and buzz cut every two weeks at the Barbers.


17th District (Northwest Portland, parts of Beaverton)

Dr. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, Democrat

Steiner Hayward, a family practice physician at Oregon Health & Science University, brings useful health-care knowledge to the state Senate. Although she's a relative newcomer to politics, she landed a seat on the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee, and her work earned the second-highest rating among senators in our 2013 "The Good, the Bad and the Awful" scorecard.

We like her integrity and courage. She bucked public employee unions that were fighting cuts to PERS.

And consider what happened when Nike chairman Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, said they would put up $500 million toward cancer research at OHSU if the teaching hospital could match it with donations. OHSU's first move was to use its political clout in Salem to shake $200 million out of taxpayers. OHSU succeeded, but not before Steiner Hayward pushed back hard, saying the money would do far more good being spent on prevention.

Agree or disagree, you cannot help but admire her courage.

Her Republican opponent, insurance salesman John Verbeek, is smart and no-nonsense. He's making a second run for this Senate seat after an unsuccessful race for Metro. But he lacks the experience and record of civic engagement to mount a serious challenge.

Steiner Hayward's guilty pleasure: Junk novels, especially those by Elizabeth Lowell, which have "no redeeming social value."


20th District (Gladstone, Oregon City, Damascus, Canby, parts of Clackamas County)

Jamie Damon, Democrat

A contractor, Olsen is oblivious enough not to have seen the ethical problems with holding a fundraiser this September at his wife's boutique and offering female lobbyists a discount to attend. (An elections complaint is pending.)

His opponent, Jamie Damon, has for most of the past 30 years been a mediator, resolving problems for local governments. That's pretty good training for working in the state Capitol.

In 2011, she was appointed to the Clackamas County Commission and spent an instructive 18 months in the middle of near civil wars over light rail and urban renewal. She lost her seat the following year.

Damon grew up in a conservative military household and counts among her achievements on the Clackamas County Commission the revitalization of timber harvesting in county forests.

That background tells us that if elected, she won't be just another reflexively liberal Democrat.

Damon's guilty pleasure: Sitting with her daughters watching "chick flicks" while singing along and eating popcorn and ice cream.


23rd District (Northeast and Southeast Portland)

Michael Dembrow, Democrat

The teaching style of Portland Community College English professor Michael Dembrow may be drier than Ben Stein’s, but he keeps moving to the front of the class in Salem. The Democratic Party chose Dembrow, a three-term state representative, to replace Jackie Dingfelder when she left the Senate last fall for a job in Portland Mayor Charlie Hales’ office.

That's good news for the state's most vulnerable populations, whom Dembrow has reliably championed. He sponsored a 2013 law giving in-state college tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants who went to Oregon high schools. And he helped create Oregon's first public guardianship program—it funds advocates for elderly and disabled people who can't make decisions about their long-term care. He now chairs the Senate's natural resources committee, where his toughest task will be renewing a 2009 clean fuels program that plays a key role in state efforts to address climate change.

Dembrow doesn't deviate much from the party line, but's he's proved an effective, liberal voice in both legislative chambers. His opponent is Libertarian candidate Michael Marvin, who on his Facebook page promised to "snort coke off of a hooker's ass" if elected.

Dembrow's guilty pleasure: "When I wake up in the morning, I know I should be doing some work. But I use that first hour for reading."


26th District (Hood River, Sandy, Estacada, Damascus)

Chuck Thomsen, Republican

He is a plain-spoken guy, as befits a fourth-generation pear grower. He majored in political science at Willamette University, he says, because it was the first class in which he managed to score a grade as high as a B.

He sponsored legislation, now on the ballot, that would give driver's cards to undocumented immigrants. He owns Thomsen Orchards in Hood River. As someone who relies on migrant labor to pick his pears, he's acting out of self-interest but also bucking GOP orthodoxy.

Thomsen's proudest legislative accomplishment (and one of some practical usefulness) is funding renovations of a rest stop along Highway 26 at Government Camp on Mount Hood. The state's plan to shut it down would have created a mess.

Democrat Robert Bruce, a construction project manager from Sandy, wants to bring a working man's perspective to Salem—but Thomsen already has that covered.

Thomsen's guilty pleasure: "Therapy golf" at Indian Creek Golf Course in Hood River. He admits his handicap has worsened from 10 to 16 since he entered the Legislature


Oregon House

26th District (Wilsonville, Sherwood, parts of Tualatin and Hillsboro)

John Davis, Republican

Some hate the UGB, the line around cities that dictates what can be developed and what must be left as farm or forest. Others love the concept of compelling the region to grow carefully and encourage more density within the UGB.

It's Metro, the regional government, that draws the UGB. But after three years of public meetings, pitched battles and litigation over the process, Metro in 2010 created new categories of lands, called urban and rural reserves, that only complicated matters beyond anyone's expectations.

Lawsuits multiplied, and the disagreement would not have been settled for years.

Enter John Davis, a freshman who dared legislate away Metro's mess. Usually the Legislature wants to stay out of local land-use decisions, and should.

But Davis saw a need to have lawmakers declare Metro's decisions as sufficient in hopes the regional agency could move forward and wouldn't create such a huge mess next time. Davis—along with Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem)—rescued years of work .

Democrat Eric Squires, who runs a Hillsboro nonprofit, has jumped from job to job and lacks the depth of achievement that would offer a compelling rationale for bouncing Davis.

Davis' guilty pleasure: "Chocolate-chip cookies after 10 pm."


27th District  (Raleigh Hills, Garden Home, Beaverton)

Tobias Read, Democrat

WW

But Republicans offered voters no option this year, giving Read the chance to mount a successful write-in campaign in the Republican primary. Like several other lawmakers in November, Read's name will appear on the ballot next to both parties' IDs. Pretty clever.

Don't get us wrong. Read is likable and thoughtful, and he's found focus since first winning election in 2006. A former Nike footwear developer, Read works as a consultant with out-of-state clients on economic development issues. He says he'll continue to concentrate on economic growth issues if re-elected.

We hope he'll also get to push forward a bill from the February legislative session, House Bill 4143, that proved controversial. Under current Oregon law, uncollected damages in class action suits go back to the wrongdoer. Read's bill would instead funnel unclaimed money to Legal Aid Services of Oregon. It makes sense to us.

Read's Libertarian opponent, Robert Martin, has no governmental experience and not much to offer.

Read's guilty pleasure: Fantasy football with college buddies from Willamette University.


28th District  (Aloha, parts of Beaverton)

Jeff Barker, Democrat

First elected in 2002, the 71-year-old Barker contemplated retiring from the Legislature in 2012, but his wife urged him to keep going. "She said, 'Run till you're tired of it,' and I'm not tired yet," Barker says.

We're glad of that.

Barker brings experience from 30 years as a cop to Salem, where he is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He's known as a moderate and prides himself on his open-door policy. "I'll talk to anyone," he says.

Barker may be a law-and-order type, but he supports legalization of marijuana. "Prohibition doesn't work," he says.

Barker's Libertarian challenger, Lars Hedbor, is a technical consultant who also writes self-published novels about the American Revolution.

Barker’s guilty pleasure:  A great chocolate dessert—“any great one.”


29th District (Cornelius, Hillsboro, Forest Grove)

Susan McLain, Democrat

That's created an opening that Democrats and Republicans are turning into a contest.

Democrat Susan McLain served four terms as a councilor with Metro, the regional government, and she taught high school in Washington County for 39 years.

Republican Mark Richman has been a prosecutor in the Washington County District Attorney's Office for nine years.

The timing of McLain's entry into the race raises eyebrows. Unger abruptly announced he wouldn't seek re-election on the last day candidates could file. McLain acknowledged in our endorsement interview that Unger gave her a heads-up about his plans weeks earlier, allowing her to file minutes before deadline, effectively cutting out any Democratic challengers. That looks sleazy.

But dirty pool isn't in keeping with McLain's record. Her 16 years with Metro earned McLain a reputation not unlike Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz's: hard-working and sincere, someone who pays sharp attention to details and budgets. She has significant expertise in land use, planning and education.

McLain can also put people off. At Metro, she talked too much and squabbled with colleagues.

Richman grew up in Beaverton but moved to the district only last fall from the Bethany area. In addition to being closer to work, Richman earned what he thought might be an easier path to the Oregon House. His previous home was in House District 33, Democrat Mitch Greenlick's deep-blue waters. A competitive ballroom dancer—his specialty is Latin dance—Richman knew a losing battle when he saw one. "That's about a 20-point disadvantage," he said.

Richman strikes us as a moderate. He's pro-life, but says he lost the endorsement of Oregon Right to Life because he didn't object to early-term abortion.

He's short on ideas and political experience, however. This is his first bid for public office, and he responded to more than a few of our questions with variations of "nothing specific comes to mind."

In this race, we'll go with McLain.

McLain's guilty pleasure: Watching The Voice with her family.


30th District (Hillsboro, North Plains)

Joe Gallegos, Democrat 

After one term in Salem, Gallegos has developed a reputation as likable and earnest, sometimes bordering on naive. He represents one of the state's economic linchpins—the Silicon Forest, including Intel—but his achievements have been mostly academic, like a law requiring new legislation to list its impact on minorities. (We do applaud his working with Intel to fund a college scholarship program for poor students.)

Gallegos brought that caution into his endorsement interview, where he refused to say how he'd vote in November on legal marijuana and GMO labeling, saying he wanted to hear more from constituents. What might be careful deliberation for a private citizen looks like a lack of courage in a race for re-election. 

We'd be fine with replacing Gallegos with a challenger who offers a clear improvement. Republican candidate Dan Mason doesn't. The apartment-complex manager moved into the district after a failed challenge to Rep. Chris Harker (D-Beaverton) in 2012. (The Libertarian nominee, Intel engineer Kyle Markley, did not attend our interview.)

Mason doesn't have a track record of accomplishments that merit sending him to Salem—instead, he had the chutzpah to tell us Gallegos, 72, is too old.

In fact, it's Gallegos who has a closer connection to the voters of the 30th District. We counsel patience. Give him another term, and urge him to get more done this time.

Gallegos' guilty pleasure: Northwest craft brews.


33rd District (Northwest Portland, Cedar Mill)

Mitch Greenlick, Democrat

Greenlick is a big brain who does not mince words. He is one of the few people in Salem with a strong grasp of how Gov. John Kitzhaber's coordinated care organizations are supposed to work. He's pushing for more robust evidence that the CCOs' delivery of health care is more efficient.

Greenlick was an early opponent of the Columbia River Crossing project. In 2013, despite pressure from House leadership to support the project, he insisted on placing conditions on a funding bill that helped ensure the CRC's demise.

Greenlick is the clear choice over his only opponent, Libertarian Mark Vetanen.

Greenlick's guilty pleasure: "My pocket's always full of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Chocolate and peanut butter are the two basic food groups."


34th District (Cedar Mill, Tanasbourne, Rock Creek)

Ken Helm, Democrat

The retirement of Democratic incumbent Rep. Chris Harker (D-Beaverton) has opened the door for one of this election’s best new candidates, Ken Helm.

Helm is a land-use lawyer who has represented both real-estate developers and the planning agency Metro; he now works as a land-use hearings officer across Oregon.

His mediation skills will be much needed in Salem, as rumblings of discontent over the urban growth boundary rise in Washington and Clackamas counties.

Helm is already crafting legislation to tweak those rules where they aren't working, but what the Legislature most needs is his commitment to the conservation principles that have made Oregon a national model for avoiding sprawl.

We were pleasantly surprised by Helm's opponent, 27-year-old bank supervisor Brenden King, who won the Republican nomination as a write-in candidate. The GOP could use more of King's nuanced support for same-sex marriage and driver's cards for undocumented immigrants.

We hope to see King on the ballot again—but he can't yet match Helm's expertise.

Helm's guilty pleasure: The Wall Street Journal sports page.


35th District (Tigard, Metzger, Garden Home)

Margaret Doherty, Democrat

Doherty taught at Milwaukie High School before a long career as an official with the Oregon Education Association, the statewide teachers union. She is never going to win prizes for independence.

Doherty doesn't have to worry about competition, however. She also carries the Republican nomination in her district and faces Libertarian John Gerboth, who did not attend his endorsement interview.

Doherty's guilty pleasure: "I recently spent five hours watching the reality show Hoarders."


36th District (Southwest Portland)

Jennifer Williamson, Democrat

The lawyer-turned-lobbyist-turned-lawyer outshined many of her fellow freshmen in Salem. In our 2013 "The Good, the Bad and the Awful" survey of metro-area lawmakers, one observer nominated her for rookie of the year.

What has us so impressed is Williamson's precision. Many lawmakers come to our office full of passion about the environment, education, the economy and—dare we say it—blah, blah, blah. Williamson has passion, too. She describes herself as a poor farm kid from Washington County who wants others to share the rich opportunities she's had.

But Williamson also has a quality too many others lack: an interest in the details required to craft good legislation. In 2013, the union representing registered nurses at the Oregon State Hospital—the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—sought support to make patient assaults against hospital nurses automatic felonies.

Williamson opposed a key Democratic ally because she didn't think the union's proposal would solve the problem of assaults going unpunished. She instead worked with lawmakers to fund an additional prosecutor in the Marion County District Attorney's Office to handle assaults at the hospital. That hasn't resolved the problem, but the plan was an improvement over the union's.

Williamson's interest in privacy laws and technology is forward-thinking. Among other things, she wants to talk about the amount of time law enforcement agencies can hold data collected via license-plate scanners. "We're entering a time where we could have a lot of information for a long time," she says. "What's the balance?"

Her opponent is Amanda Burnham, a Libertarian with a background in commercial real estate.

This one's a no-brainer.

Williamson's guilty pleasure: Just like Blumenauer—Salt & Straw. "Thank God that the lines are really long."


37th District (Tualatin, West Linn)

Julie Parrish, Republican

That may be one reason she does so poorly in "The Good, the Bad and the Awful," our biennial ratings of Portland-area legislators. In 2013, she finished dead last among House members.

Parrish has stubbornly and passionately battled the Democratic majority on the faulty numbers behind the Columbia River Crossing project. She defied her own party on issues ranging from the "kicker" tax rebate check (she played a role in ending the illogical but popular practice) to same-sex marriage (she supports it). Parrish proudly notes she is the only lawmaker in Salem who doesn't get an endorsement from either lobby in the abortion debate—that's centrism raised to an art form.

It's a measure of Parrish's independence that she got kicked out of GOP leadership in February. Her sin? Recruiting a moderate candidate to challenge right-wing radio froth-jock Bill Post, the party's pick for District 25.

Salem could use more mutinies like that.

It won't get them from Parrish's challenger, Gerritt Rosenthal, who literally wrote the Democratic Party platform as a member of the drafting committee. A mostly retired environmental consultant, Rosenthal couldn't name a substantive issue where he disagrees with his party caucus, and was reluctant to say how he'd vote on this November's ballot measures. That coyness isn't a good sign.

With Parrish, you know where you stand. And her positions are among the last forces grounding the Republicans in common sense.

Parrish's guilty pleasure: "Hot angel food cake right out of the pan."


40th District (Oregon City, Jennings Lodge)

Brent Barton, Democrat

After growing up in Newport, Barton earned degrees from Stanford, Cambridge and Harvard Law School before entering the Legislature in 2009.

In 2010, he narrowly lost to Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River) for a vacant state Senate seat. Barton responded by moving from Clackamas to Oregon City to run in 2012 for the House seat vacated by former House Speaker Dave Hunt (D-Gladstone).

Barton is smart and ambitious and willing to go his own way. In February, he alone in his caucus voted against House Bill 4054. That was the Democrats' effort to rewrite the Oregon Supreme Court's ballot title for Measure 88, the initiative that would permit undocumented immigrants to get driver's cards. The rewrite was an attempted end run to make the measure more appealing to voters. We appreciate Barton's courage to take on his party's leadership over this questionable move.

Newgard, a masonry contractor, wants to expand vocational training, but there's nothing in his background or campaign to suggest he would be an effective lawmaker.

Barton's guilty pleasure: Watching professional wrestling.


41st District (Sellwood, Eastmoreland, Milwaukie, Oak Grove)

Kathleen Taylor, Democrat

As an experienced auditor who has worked for various state and local governments, Taylor ought to be able to bring her analytical skills to Salem. But we endorsed Barnes in the spring because we couldn't figure out what Taylor knows about state government and what she really cares about.

When asked this time about tax reform, for example, Taylor wasn't prepared to talk in any depth about what she might prefer, except to say a more progressive system would be better.

Of all the issues Oregon faces—taxes, mental health care, school reform, to name a few—she says her absolutely No. 1 issue is e-cigarettes. She wants to pass laws against minors buying e-cigs and how they can be marketed. That's a pretty narrow agenda.

Speaking of vapor, her Republican opponent is pharmacist Tim McMenamin, whose campaign material looks Xeroxed from a GOP candidate training manual.

Taylor's guilty pleasure: "I do a ridiculous number of crossword puzzles."


42nd District (Inner Southeast and Northeast Portland)

Rob Nosse, Democrat

Rob Nosse wears a lot of hats—literally. He owns more than a dozen dapper fedoras, which he purchased at vintage stores. His campaign manager forbade him from wearing the hats in a crowded primary, afraid he might look silly. But after he bested five other Democrats (vying for the seat Jules Bailey vacated to take a spot on the Multnomah County Commission), Nosse can relax.

As a legislator, Nosse is likely to be more one-note. He's an organizer for the Oregon Nurses Association, which poured money into his campaign. He describes labor unions as being "on the side of righteousness and good." Nosse is unlikely to stray from the labor platform, and conceded as much in our endorsement interview.

But while Nosse doesn't show much independence, his priorities—a higher minimum wage, universal health care—are in sync with the liberal stronghold of inner-eastside Portland, part of the city's voting bloc long known as the "Kremlin." (Nosse says it's now being called "the Portlandia district.") His intelligence and personal experiences—he'll be one of the few openly gay legislators in Salem—make Nosse a worthy champion for progressive causes.

His opponent, Libertarian grocery worker Bruce A. Knight, has not mounted a serious campaign.

Nosse's guilty pleasure: "I took up guitar playing when I turned 40. It was my midlife-crisis gift to myself."


44th District (North and Northeast Portland)

Tina Kotek, Democrat

Tina Kotek got roughed up in 2013, her first term as speaker of the Oregon House. Gov. John Kitzhaber and a group of Republicans, moderate Democrats and education supporters called the "PERS Coalition" wanted to make a significant dent in cutting benefits to PERS.

Kotek drew a line in the sand, saying the $800 million PERS cut that lawmakers approved early in the 2013 session was all that was going to happen.

But Kitzhaber later called an October special session in which lawmakers increased that amount six-fold. Kotek had to eat her words, to the chagrin of the public employee unions who'd helped her caucus win back a majority after a 2011 session in which Democrats and Republicans split the House 30-30.

Kotek in 2013 also pushed forward with the ill-fated Columbia River Crossing, over widespread opposition in her district.

Neither setback weakened her firm grip on her caucus, however, and neither dimmed her chances of emerging as a strong candidate for statewide office in the future. Republican Michael Harrington, a truck driver who ran against Kotek in 2012, is again providing only token opposition.

Kotek's guilty pleasure: Movies. A recent favorite: Guardians of the Galaxy.


48th District (Happy Valley, parts of Southeast Portland)

Jeff Reardon, Democrat

Reardon was recruited—some might say picked up and carried—into the 2012 Democratic primary as an alternative to Schaufler, whom many considered a bad vote on progressive issues when he wasn't busy being a boor.

We backed Reardon at that time, even though we found him lifeless when explaining what he might do in Salem. Granted, it's not easy to make a mark as a freshman legislator, but Reardon struggled more than most. Our biennial "The Good, the Bad and the Awful" survey of legislators in 2013 rated Reardon second to last among Portland-area House members.

In his defense, Reardon acknowledges he has much to learn about politics. A former Tektronix manager and retired high-school shop teacher, Reardon has made expanding technical education his top issue.

Meanwhile, someone should send out a search party for Reardon's opponent, Republican George "Sonny" Yellott, who didn't file an Oregon Voters' Pamphlet statement or show up for our endorsement interview.

Reardon's guilty pleasure: "I do have this passion for chocolate. It's really good with red wine."


50th District (Gresham)

Carla Piluso, Democrat

The two candidates in this race to replace Democratic state Rep. Greg Matthews, who’s not running, both sit on the Gresham-Barlow School Board.

They don't share many of the same views.

Democrat Carla Piluso joined the Gresham police in 1979, becoming only the second woman on the force. She rose to police chief in 2002 and served for six years. She lost a 2008 bid to join the Multnomah County Commission.

Republican Dan Chriestenson moved to Gresham in 1995. A "recovering musician" who was also a pastor, Chriestenson now works as a business development manager for a car dealership.

Chriestenson is smart and speaks in amusing aphorisms. He believes in "caged government and free-range citizens," for example.

But his campaign lacks substance. He says he wants to focus the Legislature on the "essentials," but he didn't convince us that he knew how he would do that in Salem.

Piluso is the clear choice. She says she has three priorities: public safety, education and promoting a statewide living wage. Her background gives her the credibility to pursue her agenda.

Piluso's guilty pleasure: "Pedicures and dark chocolate."


51st District (Clackamas, Happy Valley, Damascus, parts of Southeast Portland)

Shemia Fagan, Democrat

Give Shemia Fagan credit: Where Portland City Hall saw a transportation-funding crisis, she found a sidewalk-building opportunity.

When a 5-year-old girl was killed crossing Southeast 136th Avenue in February 2013, Fagan, a first-term state representative, secured $8.5 million in state funding for sidewalks, pedestrian crossings and lane widening on long-neglected streets on the eastern edges of Portland. Her acquisition was a major victory for a freshman legislator—and stood in stark contrast to the dithering of Mayor Charlie Hales, who continues to hold safety projects hostage as a reward for passing his "street fee" to fund postponed repaving.

"Everybody wants to deliver something concrete," Fagan says. "I literally delivered concrete."

She arrived in office with a backstory about climbing up from poverty, and wattage that dwarfed most first-time office-seekers.

Sidewalks aside, Fagan's track record through one term is somewhat less remarkable.

Her opponent, neophyte Republican Jodi Bailey, neatly punctures Fagan's self-promotion when she points out how Fagan trumpets a "law" to make home builders buy American products—when all Fagan actually did was sponsor a bill that failed.

Fagan and Bailey are not that dissimilar on social issues: They both plan to vote against marijuana legalization, and both have supported same-sex marriage (a braver stance for Bailey in the GOP).

The difference is that Fagan can point to tangible results for her constituents, while Bailey has to repeat platitudes about job creation while trying to explain away a Chapter 11 bankruptcy she and her husband filed shortly after moving to Oregon in 2008. Bailey is a better candidate than many we've seen from her party, but she isn't prepared for Salem.

Fagan's guilty pleasure: "I could spend all day on Pinterest."


52nd District (Hood River, Corbett, Sandy)

Mark Johnson, Republican

Johnson serves on the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee and is vice chairman of the Energy and Environment Committee. He's also serving his third term on the Hood River School Board.

His experience with K-12 budgeting and policies are real assets, given the importance of school funding to the state budget. He's worked across the aisle to push (unsuccessfully, so far) more rational approaches to school district expenditures. He's argued, wisely, that school districts should stop raising staff compensation before they know what they can afford.

In 2013, Johnson served as an anchor member of the PERS Coalition, a group of lawmakers and activists that successfully pushed for cuts to public employee retirement benefits.

Democratic challenger Stephanie Nystrom co-owns a Corbett computer engineering firm. She's smart and focused on making Oregon schools more relevant to students and more successful, but she lacks the stature to unseat Johnson.

Johnson's guilty pleasure: "The hoppiest Hood River IPA I can get my hands on."


 

{::PAGEBREAK::}

STATE MEASURES

Measure 86

Oregon Opportunity Initiative: YES

State Treasurer Ted Wheeler proposes giving needy Oregon students more financial aid. To do that, he wants the state to borrow money to build an endowment fund, and use the earnings on the endowment's investments to provide more aid.

We appreciate Wheeler's creative thinking. But some of the details of how his proposed funding mechanism would work worry us.

The state would be playing the stock market with borrowed funds, which some financial experts view as irresponsible investing. Oregon runs the risk of another stock-market crash and spending the next decade trimming budgets to pay it back.

Wheeler wants to use general obligation bonds to do the borrowing; such bonds are traditionally used for capital expenditures, not ongoing expenses. He needs voters to change the state constitution to make this legal, and that's a big step.

For all this trouble, the plan has only a modest practical impact. If the state issued $100 million in bonds, it would at first see a return of no more than $5 million a year for college aid.

One danger is that the Oregon Legislature might see a new revenue stream for higher education, and use Wheeler's innovation as an excuse to reduce its current level of college aid, creating more risk while leaving students no better off.

Politically, Wheeler has his eye on the governor's mansion. If his plan works, he gets acclaim for using state borrowing power to invest in the next generation. But he also understands the risk: If the investment goes south, he could sink with it.

But Wheeler is the only state leader talking about the critical problem of student debt, and trying to do something about it. He's created a plan where the financial risk, like the reward, is small. The state will take on debt only if lawmakers decide to use this new tool.

Wheeler is willing to bet his reputation on this idea. We think it's worth the gamble.


Measure 87

Judges employed by universities and military: YES

But the Oregon Supreme Court has been so strict that it's barred judges from teaching at public universities. Measure 87, referred by the Legislature, would amend the state constitution to allow judges to teach in the Oregon University System and to serve in the National Guard. This one is an easy "yes."


Measure 88

Driver's cards for undocumented immigrants: YES

There are plenty of those undocumented immigrants in Oregon—probably more than 160,000. They provide the backbone of the state's agriculture and hospitality industries. Federal restrictions caused Oregon in 2008 to stop issuing driver's licenses to people who couldn't prove legal residency. This measure largely replaces the system Oregon once had.

Ten states (plus the District of Columbia) have recognized this quandary and approved this inelegant but practical solution.

The 2013 Oregon Legislature, with broad support from business and labor, approved a bill to establish driver's cards here. The cards would allow people to drive legally after proving they have lived in Oregon a year, showing proof of citizenship from their home country, and passing driving tests.

We now have to vote on it because the politics behind this issue are complicated and ugly.

Gov. John Kitzhaber and state legislators passed the driver's card bill in an effort to work around congressional gridlock on wider immigration reform. But there's also no mistaking their opportunism. They wanted to seize on the growing Latino voting block, while the nursery and restaurant lobbies wanted to protect their own interests.

Opponents of illegal immigration quickly gathered enough signatures to refer the bill to the ballot. Along the way, opponents have staged one of the more repellent campaigns in recent memory.

Foes of this measure say they don't want the government to sanctify undocumented residents with an official government ID. But their campaign seeks not to question the bill's effects but instead to put anyone who might benefit from the card on trial.

The "no" campaign makes broad, alarmist claims about how immigrants would use the card to smuggle drugs and bomb planes. They say their objection has nothing to do with race, yet they talk about immigrants' widespread "assault on our culture." Their rhetoric is vile.

Opponents also talk about following the rule of law. The problem is, our nation's laws have created contradictory and confusing standards. We could deport everyone who is here illegally, as some want, and divide families and devastate communities that are a very part of our state.

But the rest of us live in a society based also on compassion, especially when the laws don't work. Measure 88 doesn't fix the immigration crisis—but it gives us a window to work on it.

In the meantime, it makes roads a little safer.

Sí.


Measure 89

Equal Rights Amendment: YES

It took until 1972 for Congress to send the amendment to states for approval. But the amendment fell three states short of the three-fourths it needed and died amid the growing conservative backlash of the Reagan years.

Since then, state and federal laws have banned virtually all sex discrimination. But chronic inequities—such as difference in pay between men and women—are not problems you solve by amending the U.S. Constitution.

That's why Measure 89, which would inscribe the provisions of the Equal Rights Amendment in the state constitution, has more nostalgic value than anything else.

Measure 89's sponsor, Leanne Littrell DiLorenzo, makes only a theoretical case that amending the state constitution would clear away lingering legal questions that, as far as we can tell, have had no meaningful consequences.

We kept hearing that many liberal or progressive groups disliked the measure but didn't have the courage to speak out against it.

The only group that has is the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, which argues the amendment is unnecessary and could undermine rights aimed at prohibiting other kinds of discrimination.

That last argument feels pretty speculative. Instead, consider this measure a long-overdue statement about civil rights and equality that we can send to the courts, and to future Legislatures, governors and generations. On balance, we think it's better late than never that Oregon enshrines in its constitution a clarity we long ago declared should be the law for all.


Measure 90

Top 2 primary: YES

 

"This measure," Deckert told us, "seeks to accomplish one thing: Give every Oregon voter the same ballot. Period."

During our endorsement interview, we heard a lot of arguments for and against Measure 90, but Deckert's argument framed it in a way that's hard to argue with: It would allow more voters to choose from a wider range of candidates. 

Let's face it, Oregon's political system is becoming increasingly moribund. Our closed party primaries mean voters who don't want to identify as Republicans or Democrats are cut out. 

We all get to vote in the general election, but the choices by then have been set (and often, to a large degree, predetermined) by a narrow bandwidth of party voters who, in the primary, lean to opposite ends of the political spectrum. What the rest of us too often get are extreme choices, not candidates who must appeal to the reasonable, middle ground.

Ideology may get you elected, but pragmatism makes you a public servant. We're looking for a way to let more public servants rise up during campaign season. 

Measure 90 would force candidates into a different kind of competition. All registered voters would get to vote for any candidate in a primary. The top two finishers would face each other in the general election.

This feature forces candidates of all stripes to appeal across party lines and ideology. We expect, and hope, this would increase the number of candidates who are more interested in representing a wider array of voters. And that could mean more pragmatic elected officials who appeal to voters in the forgotten middle.

Democrats, Republicans, labor unions and other special interests elevated and protected by the current system don't like Measure 90. That's reason enough to like it.

We heard a lot of arguments against Measure 90. A top-two system could end up pitting two Democrats each other, or two Republicans. It could hurt unions, Democrats and liberal causes while helping Republicans and business interests. 

We're not convinced. Voters in Washington and California have approved the top-two system without serious problems. We shouldn't protect the system merely to avoid helping or hurting one side or the other.

Minor parties argue the top-two system would ruin them. We don't think so. The challenge for minor parties has always been to describe a vision that appeals to more voters. That would still be their challenge. Under this measure, all that minor-party candidates would need is a second-place finish to put them in the general.

Oregon voters trounced a similar initiative in 2008, and this measure does have a notable flaw: A candidate who gets more than 50 percent of the vote in a two-person primary election would still have to run in the general election, even if it means an identical replay of the primary.

That can be fixed after Measure 90 passes. It's a small problem for such a big reform.


Measure 91

Legalize recreational use of marijuana: YES

It's not just stoners who see pot prohibition as a relic. The most heated argument in the latest effort to legalize marijuana is whether law enforcement is still wasting resources by making arrests, or simply turning a blind eye.

And if you think the days of people getting cuffed in pot busts went out with Robert Mitchum and Johnny Cash, consider federal data released last year. It shows African-Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites. The New York Times was right to say the war on marijuana has turned into a war on minorities.

What's different this time than in 2012, the last occasion we urged voters to decriminalize grass? Legal weed's backers have offered a plan we don't have to hold our noses to support.

Measure 91 authorizes the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to supervise stores selling recreational marijuana, in much the same way the agency regulates the sale of booze. The OLCC is far from flawless, but the measure gives it the time and leeway to learn from the missteps of Colorado and Washington, which legalized pot in the last election cycle.

This plan lets the state tax cannabis, too—charging growers $35 an ounce on flowers and $10 an ounce on leaves. State estimates say legal marijuana could generate anywhere between $17 million and $40 million annually. (That's money taken out of the pockets of drug cartels, by the way.) And it will allow the hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding Oregonians who currently use pot to come out of the shadows.

We still have concerns, especially about whether the backers of this measure have looked past the dollar signs to fully grapple with the increased potency of a drug that's come a long way since the heady 1960s. But even the prosecutors who oppose Measure 91 admit it probably won't make the state much worse.

The sober thing to do is to vote "yes."


Measure 92

GMO labeling: NO

Back then, Oregon voters killed the measure by more than a 2-to-1 margin.

WW agreed with the outcome. Our reasoning, in our endorsement issue for the 2002 general election, was based on what we saw as a poorly written measure.

Monsanto and other foes spent an obscene amount money in 2002 to kill the Oregon measure. Opponents are doing so again: The fight over Measure 92 is already the most expensive in state history. 

Food-safety advocates have gained more momentum in their fight against GMOs. In Southern Oregon this spring, voters in otherwise conservative Josephine and Jackson counties approved measures banning GMO crops.

Around the world, 64 countries require some form of GMO labeling. And that works, to some degree, because those countries have internally consistent rules on what constitutes GMO food and how labels should be presented.

This measure is much better written than the 2002 version. But if any advocate of this measure could point to a single meaningful health threat posed by GMOs, we wouldn't be demanding labeling, we'd be calling for bans.

But they can't. The labels called for under Measure 92 for raw foods (say, a bunch of bananas) would simply say which ones are genetically engineered. But the labels for processed foods (like a can of soup) wouldn't tell what part of the product has GMOs, or how much. None of the labels would say what it would mean for you. We worry that all labeling would do is confuse and frighten people.

Want to send a message and play it safe by avoiding GMOs? Buy foods labeled organic under existing, voluntary labeling programs.


Multnomah County Measures

Measure 26-159

City of Portland parks bond: YES

The campaign pitch is that taxes won't go up if you vote "yes." That's true, though it should also be mentioned that you'll pay a little less if the bond is defeated.

But voting "no" would be silly. The bond would fund the upkeep of Portland's park system, one of the glories of a city that cherishes its trees and green space.

The bond would bankroll up to $68 million a year in much-needed repairs of moldering playgrounds, broken bridges and leaky swimming pools. The facilities receiving maintenance range across the city—and Fritz, an equity champion, has put an emphasis on neglected parks in East Portland.

The only potentially controversial result of the bond is the plan to repair the cracks in Pioneer Courthouse Square, which gets some support from private patrons. There might be better uses for the money. But the iconic public space, often called the city's living room, is looking as shabby as your own foyer might after 30 years of commuters tromping through.

One need only glance at the city's nearly billion-dollar backlog of crumbling roads to see what happens when infrastructure repairs are put off.

Perhaps most important, the bond would make some headway in upgrading public spaces that still don't meet the standards of the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act. Everyone in Portland should be able to enjoy the city's gems. A "yes" vote assures that will happen.


Measure 26-160

Metro land use: YES

Twelve years ago, Metro offered voters a measure that would prevent the agency from telling cities how much density they should pack in their neighborhoods. The measure cemented into the agency's charter the rules it was already following.

The only reason the regional government offered up this curb on its own power was to head off a more extreme step pushed by land-use opponents that would have stripped Metro of its ability to set land-use laws, build up density and reduce sprawl.

The measure is about to expire, and Metro is required to ask us to renew it. Pass or fail, it will probably have no practical effect on how the agency operates. How you vote won't change how many condo bunkers go up in your backyard.

But the region is better off with this rule in place. We don't like the idea of Metro telling cities how to plan their individual neighborhoods. And we're especially wary of giving more power to the half-awake clock-punchers currently on the Metro Council—none of whom had the courage to issue an argument in the Voters' Pamphlet against the renewal.

The politics that brought us this measure is insipid. But the policy is sound.


Measure 26-161

Portland Public Schools five-year levy renewal: YES

Don't let that get in the way of voting for Measure 26-161, a common-sense way to put an additional $4 million per year into PPS's coffers—enough to pay for 40 to 50 teachers' salaries and benefits packages—without spending an extra dime.

How?

Right now, state law allows urban renewal districts in Portland to siphon off millions in dollars from local levies such as the one PPS put before voters in 2011.

In 2013, the school district went to Salem with the backing of Portland Mayor Charlie Hales to ask lawmakers for a fix. They got it in House Bill 2632, which says new local option levies aren't subject to skimming by urban renewal districts.

Portland's existing levy doesn't expire until the 2015-16 school year, but the School Board decided to put it up for renewal one year early to take advantage of the new rule.

If approved, homeowners' tax rate would stay the same—$1.99 per $100,000 of assessed value. But the school district would collect $64.3 million in 2015 instead of about $60 million.

A "no" vote wouldn't do any good. Homeowners would still have to pay the final year of the existing levy. But since it would be in effect under pre-2013 rules, the district would collect less money.

The fix is simple and deserves your vote, even if we can't get that raise back from Carole Smith.