Senate District 14
Kate Lieber, Democrat
It's been 12 years since this suburban district saw a contested Democratic primary. But Mark Hass, the senator who has held the seat since 2007, decided to run for Oregon secretary of state rather than seek reelection.
The contest to succeed Hass reflects some tension in the district. Washington County Commissioner Dick Schouten is running and holds the district's western flank—making the case that he's better in touch with local values (and dining). "How often have you been at the Peppermill in Aloha?" he quizzed his opponent. "Do you know what it is?" Schouten, 67, aims to join his wife, state Rep. Sheri Malstrom Schouten (D-Beaverton), in the Legislature. By most accounts, he's been a solid commissioner: a champion for parks and a reliable vote for more housing.
But we were more impressed by Kate Lieber, a former Multnomah County prosecutor. Lieber, 53, now teaches criminal justice at Portland Community College and chairs the board of Transition Projects, a nonprofit that helps homeless people find and keep apartments. She also chaired the state's Psychiatric Security Review Board.
Lieber struck us as someone better equipped to enliven the stodgy upper chamber of the Legislature, where progressives claim good bills go to die. She'll press for quorum reform and fines to keep the GOP from playing hooky whenever climate change comes up. (Schouten's suggestion—tracking Republican senators' whereabouts with GPS devices—seems dubious.)
We don't often endorse first-time candidates, especially for a job this big. But we don't often encounter candidates of Lieber's caliber. We think she'll make an impact on Salem.
What Lieber will remember from the COVID-19 pandemic: "Being swept up in this whole Tiger King craziness and all of the memes and jokes that have come out."
Senate District 18
Ginny Burdick, Democrat
Burdick, 72, a former journalist and public relations consultant, first won this seat in 1996, which makes her the longest-serving member of the Oregon Senate. As majority leader, she's the second-ranking officer in that body and has taken a lot of heat from progressives for the deliberate and, at times, conservative nature of the upper chamber under her leadership.
Burdick's pet issue is gun control, and she's chipped away at it for years, co-sponsoring a successful 2017 extreme-risk protection law, which allows police to take guns away from owners determined by the courts to be a danger to themselves or others, and backing another gun-safety bill that Republicans killed last year with a walkout. Although running for reelection, she is, in deference to her critics, stepping down from her leadership position. That takes some of the energy out of the campaign to unseat her launched by Ben Bowman, 28, a member of the Tigard-Tualatin School Board and former legislative staffer.
Bowman and Burdick agree on most issues, and he hasn't made a convincing case he'd be substantially more effective than her on climate, education or health care, the issues upon which he's running. Burdick has generally scored above average in our biannual rating of lawmakers, and even if that's not exciting, it's enough for another term.
What Burdick will remember about the COVID-19 pandemic: The senator is an avid walker and says she's been impressed with the courtesy that pedestrians show each other as they socially distance on Northwest Portland sidewalks.
House District 26
Dan Laschober, Republican
This district, which covers Wilsonville and parts of Hillsboro, is one of the most evenly balanced in the metro area. Although Democrats now hold about a 5 percent registration advantage, District 26 was a solid Republican seat
until 2018, when then-incumbent Rep. Rich Vial (R-Hillsboro) lost in a major upset to Democratic nominee Courtney Neron.
Little has changed in the district since then, but the GOP has not focused much energy on a potential pickup. Three candidates are vying for the chance to challenge Rep. Neron, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.
They are Larry McDonald, 46, who works in commercial pest control and is a first-time candidate; Dan Laschober, 57, a management consultant who previously ran for U.S. Senate and for this nomination in 2018; and Peggy Stevens, a former three-term member of the Sherwood School Board.
Stevens did not participate in our interview, and the choice between McDonald and Laschober is an easy one. Laschober holds an MBA from Northwestern, has held management positions with two multinational corporations, and can speak thoughtfully about tax policy. McDonald is angry because Democrats raised taxes and gutted the death penalty. We'll go with Laschober.
What Laschober will remember about the COVID-19 pandemic: The loss of important family moments, including his daughter's graduation from a Ph.D. program and his son's wedding celebration.
House District 28
Wlnsvey Campos, Democrat
After 18 years, Democratic state Rep. Jeff Barker is vacating his seat representing Aloha and Beaverton. Barker, a former Portland cop, provided a useful check on the zealous criminal justice reformers of his party's left wing. We'll miss his good sense and candor.
Four candidates are vying to succeed him. The strongest is 53 years his junior: Wlnsvey Campos, 24.
Campos, whose striking first name, pronounced wins-vay, was invented by her father, works as a case manager for a homeless services center in Beaverton. Raised in Brandon, Ore., Campos has also done political organizing for the Oregon Nurses Association—a group whose advocacy for hospital workers has grown increasingly crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic. Campos, who has received the lion's share of endorsements from unions, says she intends to be a champion of housing rights, climate change legislation and health care reform. Campos is young, but she shows an energy that can make her an effective legislator.
Alisa Blum, 60, a small business owner and longtime social worker, appeared intelligent and compassionate, but she was difficult to pin down on policy specifics. Raman Velji, 68, is a hotel broker who previously ran for the Oregon House in 2000. He lost that election and hasn't engaged much in American politics since then (he lived in Fiji from 2010 to 2017 before returning to Oregon).
A fourth candidate, 24-year-old Jacob Bride, is not yet ready to represent 64,000 residents in the state Legislature: He's still finishing graduate school, and his most recent experience is as an intern at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C.
What Campos will remember about the COVID-19 pandemic: Wearing a sleep mask with a penguin on it as a face mask to get groceries.
House District 33
Dr. Maxine Dexter, Democrat
Rep. Mitch Greenlick, a retired researcher at Oregon Health & Science University who's now retiring from the Legislature, has represented this Northwest Portland and Cedar Hills district for nine terms. During each one, he grew
crabbier and more committed to public health. The ruthlessness with which he dispatched anti-vaxxers last year wasn't pretty—but we can only hope his successor cares half as much.
Who will that person be? It's a free-for-all, with an unusually large number of impressive candidates. Andy Saultz grew up in the district and teaches at Pacific University. Serin Bussell is a geologist who served as chief of state to state Sen. Jeff Golden (D-Ashland) and helps oversee Portland's publicly financed elections. We were struck by her commitment to racial justice. Christina Stephenson is a civil rights lawyer who successfully championed paid family leave and equal pay bills. In a typical cycle, she might be our pick.
But these aren't normal times. And few people in Oregon have played so central a role in this generation's defining crisis as Dr. Maxine Dexter, 47, a critical care pulmonologist currently treating COVID-19 patients at two Kaiser hospitals.
But Dexter's done more than intubating people who can't breathe. In early March, she drafted a letter to Gov. Kate Brown begging her to close the schools in Oregon to slow the virus's spread. More than 5,000 doctors eventually signed that letter, which made it to the floor of Congress.
Dexter grew up in a dysfunctional broken home, put herself through college and medical school, and decided to get into politics when she heard Christine Blasey Ford tell the Senate about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Oregon is going to need Dexter's passion, decisiveness and perspective in the coming years. We thank her for what she's doing in ICU wings. And we suggest you send her to Salem.
What Dexter will remember about the COVID-19 pandemic: Denying a family access to the hospital room of a relative dying of COVID-19. "I've never, never not been able to let family be with their loved one as they die. And that is something we cannot ever take the risk of having to do again, if we can avoid it."
House District 35
Dacia Grayber, Democrat
Rep. Margaret Doherty (D-Tigard) is stepping down after a decade representing this swath of hilly suburbs southwest of Portland. The pick to replace her is an easy one: Dacia Grayber is a firefighter and paramedic with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue. Her job is to respond to medical emergencies in the midst of the pandemic. (Her husband, Matt Laas, does the same work: We featured him in an April 22 cover story.) Few candidates get as clear a view of how COVID-19 has deepened economic disparities. "I'm still on the front lines responding," she says, "but I come home to my family, and we have stable housing, we are not food insecure, [my kids] have access to computers for distance learning." That's the right lesson to take to Salem. Grayber, 44, faces nominal opposition from Keenan Casavant, who pledges to replace Doherty with a more conservative Democrat. But Grayber is one of the most compelling candidates we met this spring.
What Grayber will remember about the COVID-19 pandemic:
Donning a unicorn costume and running down the center of her street to entertain neighborhood children. "There was this small but very significant moment of joy, both for them and for me."
House District 36
Dr. Lisa Reynolds, Democrat
For four terms, this seat was held by Jennifer Williamson, whose political fortunes took an Icarus-like trajectory. Williamson rose to House majority leader, resigned from the Legislature last year to run for Oregon secretary of state, and withdrew from that race after WW reported on her questionable use of
campaign contributions for international travel.
Now four candidates seek Williamson's West Portland seat.
We were most impressed by Dr. Lisa Reynolds, 56, a pediatrician. Reynolds was part of a coalition of doctors to call for a stay-home order to slow the spread of COVID-19. Those early demands were a big part of why a hesitant Gov. Kate Brown made the right decision.
The Oregon Legislature could use more doctors over the next two years. An endless series of public health questions will confront lawmakers, even as the governor works to get the economy up and going. To offer one example: Reynolds argues that once a COVID-19 vaccine is ready, Oregon needs to get the vaccination rate to 100 percent—a political impossibility but a necessary goal. Oregon needs to take up the issue of vaccine access sooner rather than later, and it should be part of any special session held in the near future.
Reynolds' opponents all have strengths. Rob Fullmer, 52, an IT specialist at Portland State University, convincingly argued he'd show leadership on seismic preparations for the Big One—which could easily be Oregon's next crisis—and on higher education funding. Laurie Wimmer, 62, an Oregon Education Association lobbyist, has been a team player for the Democrats in pushing for school funding. And Adam Kelly Meyer, 33, a Lewis & Clark law student who works for the Oregon Department of Forestry, punched above his years and has shown he has a promising future ahead.
But the Legislature needs an independent and strong voice to help address the singular crisis of this moment. We'll call on the doctor.
What Reynolds will remember about the COVID-19 pandemic: "The 7 pm pot-banging in support of health care providers. And as a frontline provider, it tremendously warms my heart. It comes at a time, if I'm home, when I'm usually making dinner with my son. I kind of hope it continues."
House District 37
Ron Garcia, Republican
For years, this district was the fiercely defended turf of Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn)—until a Democratic challenger, Rachel Prusak, swept her aside in
2018's blue wave. Now Republicans are angling to grab the seat back.
Ron Garcia, 65, is our pick to face Rep. Prusak in November.
Many of the candidates who came through the virtual endorsement interviews failed to state the obvious: The pandemic has changed Oregon's priorities. Garcia, a real estate property manager, addresses those new realities—going so far as to say that his earlier campaign pledge to cut taxes wasn't going to fly in the post-pandemic politics of the state Legislature.
Garcia says he entered the race to be a check on the left-wing agenda of the Democratic supermajorities, which passed dramatic housing legislation two years ago to cap rent increases statewide and require some cities to allow duplexes and triplexes in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes. He opposes both. But he says his advocacy tempered the state rent-control bill, to allow landlords to evict tenants without cause in the first year and move the cap on rent increases from its initial ceiling of 2 percent to around 10 percent. We find him to be bright and affable, and we respect his ability to find compromise.
He faces Kelly Sloop, a registered pharmacist, who has highlighted support for small businesses during her campaign but did not attend WW's endorsement interview.
What Garcia will remember about the COVID-19 pandemic: A virtual family reunion to commemorate his mother on Easter. They all bit the ears off a chocolate rabbit first, just like his mother always did. "It was a blast," he says. "And the bunnies were pretty good."
House District 42
Rob Nosse, Democrat
Nosse, 52, a three-term incumbent, has spent much of his energy on the House Health Care Committee, where he's concentrated on the Oregon Health Plan and tried to rein in prescription drug prices. His career is as a union organizer, first for university students, later for Service Employees International Union and the Oregon Nurses Association.
When Nosse has visited us before for endorsement interviews, we have always asked him for a sign of his independence from the Democratic Party. Nosse never had an answer. He does now.
In 2019, Nosse voted for Senate Bill 1049, which included modest cuts to retirement benefits for public employees.
That independence is costing him. In the primary, the Oregon Education Association and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees are supporting his opponent, Paige Kreisman.
Kreisman, 24, is a disabled veteran and the first openly transgender candidate for the Oregon Legislature. She is an officer of the Democratic Socialists of America's Portland chapter and a board member of Portland Tenants United. She is bright and well-versed on the issues and has achieved the difficult task of positioning herself to Nosse's left. She's better prepared than most first-time candidates, but that's not enough to win our endorsement.
Nosse did one of the hardest and rarest things in politics. He said no to his biggest political allies in service of a larger cause: reducing the state's unfunded pension obligations and helping pave the way for passage of the Student Success Act, which will bring $1 billion for schools every year. In other words, the two bills were linked: No pension cuts, no new taxes. Nosse fell on his sword for the greater good.
That kind of courage should be rewarded, not penalized.
What Nosse will remember about the COVID-19 pandemic: A lot of constituent work, especially trying to help small businesses in his district get financial help.
House District 46
Khanh Pham, Democrat
For nearly 10 years, Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer (D-Portland) held this seat representing some of the most reliably liberal neighborhoods in the city. She's giving up her post to spend more time with family after beating cancer.
(That decision came shortly after her husband, Neal Keny-Guyer, resigned from Mercy Corps amid Oregonian reports about how the nonprofit failed to confront sexual abuse by its founder.)
Her departure sets up a generational battle for the seat, pitting Khanh Pham, 41, an environmental justice organizer who successfully championed an unprecedented 2018 Portland climate change tax, against Jeff Cogen, the former Multnomah County chairman felled seven years ago by his affair with a county employee.
There's a parallel between Cogen's bid for redemption and that of former Portland Mayor Sam Adams, who also departed public office amid personal scandal. (We'll get to Adams later.) Cogen, 58, was one of the region's most well-liked and respected officials. That made his betrayal of public trust more noteworthy. He returned from exile to run the social services nonprofit Impact NW (although under his leadership, Multnomah County threatened to pull its contracts with the organization). Cogen also suffered a stroke and underwent a grueling recovery. It is unusual to have a politician of his skills and experience seeking a House seat, but he hasn't made a compelling case for why voters should bring him back.
At any rate, the deciding factor in this race isn't Cogen. It's Pham. She's demonstrated an ability to do big things fast. The daughter of Vietnamese refugees, Pham started her career at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon but made her greatest impact at OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, where she was a key player in passing a $50 million-a-year tax on large companies to fund clean-energy jobs in low-income neighborhoods.
Pham has built a reputation as a strong organizer and a clear voice for the unheard, including Portland's rapidly growing Asian population, which has been excluded from important conversations. There's a reason she has wrapped up establishment endorsements while working from outside typical power structures: Pham makes a strong case that it's time to give a new voice a chance.
What Pham will remember about the COVID-19 pandemic: Teaching her daughter how to ride a bicycle.
House District 50
Ricki Ruiz, Democrat
Ricki Ruiz, 25, and his challenger, William Miller, 27, are pretty similar. In fact, the two longtime Gresham residents seemed quite fond of each other during their endorsement interview with WW. "William, how are you? How's your family? I just wanted [to do] a wellness check," Ruiz said. "You're an amazing person that I respect, and I hope you feel the same way about me as well."
It was sweet. Still, we have to pick. And Ruiz has more experience: He's been elected twice to the Reynolds School Board, and he currently serves as the community services coordinator for the city of Gresham. He's participated in government from as many angles as CJ McCollum takes jump shots: He's been a crime prevention specialist, an assessment and taxation technician, and an arts board member.
Miller also has some community experience under his belt: He's worked for two-and-a-half years as the community advocacy manager at the Native American Youth and Family Center, and has a compelling story of surviving a family battling drugs and abuse.
These are two young men who show promise. Either would serve his district well, but we give the edge to Ruiz for his generous involvement at Gresham City Hall.
What Ruiz will remember about the COVID-19 pandemic: Campaigning and seeing the challenges faced by low-income families during this time.