State Senator, District 24 (parts of Gresham, East Portland and Happy Valley)
It's highly unusual for an incumbent Democratic lawmaker in Portland to draw a credible opponent in the primary. State Sen. Rod Monroe, who first won election to the House in 1976 and won this seat in 2006, managed to draw two.
They are former state Rep. Shemia Fagan (D-East Portland), 36, a civil rights lawyer, and Kayse Jama, 43, executive director of the nonprofit Unite Oregon.
Monroe, 75, a retired schoolteacher, has long rated on the low end of WW's biennial ranking of lawmakers. But his history of mediocrity is not the reason two young guns want to take him out. It's the housing crisis.
Monroe owns a 51-unit apartment building in East Portland, and he has consistently opposed tenant-protection measures in Salem, a position that's painful to constituents in his district.
Monroe is oddly unfamiliar with the tenant-protection policies he has opposed. He told WW he's against overturning the ban on rent control in the state because rent control doesn't work. Fair enough. But he contradicted himself by saying he supports halting any rent increases steeper than 10 percent—something that would only be possible if the statewide ban were overturned.
Monroe also told WW he supports forbidding landlords to rehab apartment buildings and then raise the rent—a rule even backers of tenant protections are reluctant to support because it would result in neglect and disrepair.
Fagan, the daughter of a mom who was homeless, has built her campaign on countering Monroe's positions on renter protections. A two-term Oregon House veteran who stepped down in 2016 to focus on her young family, she's a polished candidate. She was an effective champion for East Portland previously, winning funding for the area's neglected sidewalks and crosswalks. In WW's biennial ranking of legislators, Fagan was rated as average—but observers said she was a fighter.
Fagan has the acumen and the work ethic to run circles around not only Monroe but many of her future colleagues in the Senate. Her presence may help shake up the legislative body's reluctance to address key policy issues as well as confront a toxic culture that was revealed last year to include rampant sexual harassment.
Jama, who was born in Somalia, is an established leader in the immigrant community and also a compelling candidate. He's a strong advocate for the people of East Portland, and he's worked to bring more voters into the process.
We hope to see him continue his service.
This is a crucial race, and not only for District 24. It could help break the Senate gridlock that has repeatedly doomed housing reforms.
An end to no-cause evictions to protect tenants is necessary and overdue. To make that happen requires overturning the ban on rent control to let cities decide how quickly rents can be raised. Otherwise, landlords will continue to force low-income tenants out with evictions and steep rent increases.
The voters of East Portland deserve this change. And they would be lucky to have Fagan advocating on their behalf.
Most embarrassing thing Facebook knows about Fagan: "I experienced two pregnancies on Facebook," Fagan says. "In a business meeting, I sneezed and peed myself a little bit on vinyl seating. Every year when it pops into my news feed, I wonder again why I posted that on Facebook."
State Representative, District 45 (Northeast Portland)
Barbara Smith Warner
When we asked Smith Warner, a three-term incumbent, for an example of a time she'd deviated from her caucus or Democratic platform, she couldn't cite one and proudly said she marches in "lockstep"—her word—with the party machine.
That's not too surprising, given that she worked for a variety of labor unions and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) before becoming a full-time lawmaker. While her seeming lack of independence troubles us, she's known in Salem as a sharp-elbowed Democratic solider and earned "good" ratings in WW's 2017 survey of lawmakers. Her pet issue is oil-train safety, which she acknowledges is an uphill battle because of the railroads' extraordinary power.
Her opponent, Portland State University economics professor James Woods, is a longtime neighborhood activist, as well as a smart and congenial guy. But he doesn't show any signs of actually wanting this job. He got in the race last year because he was irritated at Smith Warner's lack of attention to constituents but says she's now addressed that concern.
Most embarrassing thing Facebook knows about Smith Warner: "I'm old," she says. "I made sure to do all my embarrassing things before social media."
State Representative, District 26 (Sherwood and Wilsonville)
Rich Vial is courageous.
We don't throw that word around often in our endorsements. But Vial, a retired lawyer and table-grape farmer seeking his second term representing a swing district stretching from Hillsboro to Wilsonville, took the single toughest vote of the 2018 legislative session. Along with two others in his caucus, he broke with Republican Party leadership to close the "boyfriend loophole," preventing convicted domestic abusers unmarried to their victims from owning a gun.
For that vote, the Oregon Firearms Federation vowed to punish Vial with a primary opponent. The gun lobby found Dan Laschober, a financial consultant who talks tough but didn't have the guts to show up for an endorsement interview.
Vial is thoughtful about the challenges facing his district, especially highway gridlock. But what matters this year: He took a stand for the victims of domestic violence. That alone is reason enough to give him your vote.
Most embarrassing thing Facebook knows about Vial: "That I cried on the floor when I spoke about the gun bill," he says. "I thought about my own grandchildren." (He has 42 of them.)