WW’s May 2022 Endorsements: Oregon Legislature

Thuy Tran is one of the most impressive political rookies we met this cycle.

Senate District 19 (Lake Oswego, West Linn)

Wendy O’Riley - Republican

Two proponents of “medical freedom”—a term commonly used by vaccine skeptics—are vying for the Republican nomination to unseat Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego) in November.

Wendy O’Riley, a tax accountant, and Ben Edtl, who runs a nonprofit called Free Oregon that seeks to challenge government overreach in civil court, are running to represent a district encompassing parts of Lake Oswego, Tualatin and West Linn.

In some regards, Edtl, 44, echoes former President Donald Trump: He believes cancel culture, “lawlessness” and tyrannical government overreach caused a “humanitarian crisis” in Oregon, and he is bombastic in his delivery of those opinions.

O’Riley, 52, embraces some traditional Republican values, like wanting to lower taxes and reduce government spending. She also believes the state’s school curriculum does not adequately prepare students for the workforce. O’Riley also emphasized that she thinks Oregon schools teach sex education at too young an age—an argument we haven’t seen much evidence for, and one that doesn’t strike us as a key issue in the state.

Much of her platform is focused on the concept of “medical privacy,” which essentially boils down to not wanting to be asked to show a vaccine card.

O’Riley demonstrated a stronger ability to listen to differing viewpoints and to think independently, like when we pressed her on whether her beliefs about medical freedom also apply to abortion.

“I can’t go on [about] medical privacy and then say, ‘But that doesn’t count.’ Your body is your body, and we have to respect that,” she said. “Medical privacy is medical privacy. It shouldn’t matter if it’s about a shot, if it’s about abortion, if it’s about your cancer records. It is private.”

Given the choice between two candidates espousing views dangerous to public health, we respect O’Riley’s intellectual consistency.

Moments of joy when O’Riley felt life was returning to normal: Camping and Friday night dinners.

Senate District 26 (Hood River, The Dalles)

Daniel Bonham - Republican

Bonham, 44, has represented The Dalles in the House since 2017. Now, he’d like to move up to the Senate to replace retiring Sen. Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River) in a district that stretches from Corbett to The Dalles. He owns Maupin’s Stoves and Spas in The Dalles—fireplaces are an imperiled business model these days, and we may have spent too much time in our interview discussing flues. In the House, Bonham demonstrated some knack for bipartisanship, securing dental coverage for veterans and cutting a deal to allow some timber harvests on federal lands.

We did not sense the same affability in Steve Bates, 69, who is challenging Bonham with the backing of Sandy’s culture-warrior mayor, Stan Pulliam. Bates sold fire trucks before his retirement and works on veterans’ issues in the Capitol. We admire his commitment to honoring vets, but don’t see how he’d be an improvement on Bonham.

Moment of joy when Bonham felt life was returning to normal: When the mask mandate ended and he could see people’s smiling faces again.

House District 26 (Sherwood, Wilsonville)

Glenn Lancaster - Republican

Democrat Courtney Neron currently represents a collection of suburbs at the southern edge of Washington County. In redistricting, Democrats’ registration advantage shrank by about 1,100 voters, making it one of the more balanced districts in the metro area, and Republicans would love to seize it.

Jason Fields, a Yamhill County tree farmer, has the advantage of more endorsements, including that of the Oregon Family Farm Association. But we’re growing weary of Republicans’ single-minded fixation on never having to pay highway tolls—that’s what Fields mostly talks about in the Voters’ Pamphlet. (He didn’t attend our endorsement interview.) Give us the genial, eclectic Glenn Lancaster, who recently sold his company that supplies transformer equipment to electric utilities. We don’t agree with him on much, but he strikes us as a gentle, thoughtful fellow.

Moment of joy when Lancaster felt life was returning to normal: Shopping at the Wilsonville Fred Meyer without a mask.

House District 27 (Beaverton, Cedar Hills)

Ken Helm - Democrat

Helm will probably never deliver a rousing Kennedy-style speech about going to the moon or defeating communism. It’s hard to imagine him even raising his voice. He has the demeanor of a Swiss banker, or a land use lawyer, which he happens to be.

In this time of hyperpartisan cacophony, Helm’s actions speak louder than his words. Since being elected in 2014 with the backing of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, he has been a champion of the environment. “My fingerprints are on every piece of climate legislation, every piece of clean energy legislation, every piece of environmental legislation,” Helm, 57, says in soft-spoken self-promotion.

That’s not hyperbole. Helm, who has represented Beaverton, Cedar Hills, West Haven, and Rock Creek, has worked hard to promote solar, increase energy efficiency in buildings, transition Oregon to 100% clean electricity, and prevent the poaching of wildlife.

After learning that homeowner associations often had racist, homophobic, bigoted language in their covenants, he began designing a bill to make the associations remove the vile stuff by the end of this year. And rather than push it by himself, Helm brought in first-term Rep. Dacia Grayber (D-Tigard) to co-sponsor it.

Helm’s opponent is Tammy Carpenter, 51, a Raleigh Hills anesthesiologist who’s never held elected office. She’s running for very noble reasons: to bring single-payer health care to Oregon and to tackle climate change with “more Bernie Bro energy in Salem.” But even she admits that Helm has done an impeccable job—and can’t find a flaw in his voting record. We’re sticking with the guy who votes for the environment with the regularity of a Swiss watch.

Moment of joy when Helm felt life was returning to normal: Walking his dog on a Saturday in early April after the mask mandate was lifted. “Everyone was waving at each other. People driving by in their cars were waving at us.”

House District 28 (Southwest Portland, Washington County)

Patrick Castles - Republican

Castles, a novelist, hopes to live out a tale of overcoming great odds. Should he win the primary, he’ll face Rep. Dacia Grayber (D-Tigard) in a solidly blue district that stretches west from Council Crest. Worse yet for Castles, Grayber belongs to a tribe the public loves: She’s a firefighter.

First, Castles will need to get past primary opponent Charles Mengis, a former Portland General Electric accountant who wants to crack down on crime and bolster school choice. Both men are literary. Castles, a retired invoice manager for IBM, has written a sci-fi novel that features interstellar kidnapping. In his election filing, Mengis lists his “most recent” education as “G.K. Chesterton, Jane Austen, Aristotle, Dante, Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Sean Carney.”

Castles, 71, is running because he’s fed up with the state’s inability to put money to work solving Oregon’s problems, including at the Employment Department, which got $86 million from the federal government in 2009 to upgrade its systems and spent almost none of it before COVID-19 exposed its shortcomings.

He isn’t a bomb-thrower. We appreciated Castles’ measured criticism and genuine dissatisfaction. These days, that makes a bigger impression from the right, at least on us.

Moment of joy when Castles felt life was returning to normal: “Every time I walk into Fred Meyer, every time I go to church, it feels much better.”

House District 31 (St. Helens, Scappoose)

Brian Stout - Republican

Oregon House District 31, which runs up the Columbia River from Sauvie Island north to Rainier and back south to Cherry Grove, is one of the most evenly divided by party in the state. Of the two Republicans running, Brian Stout seems more focused on reaching out to the many unaffiliated voters in the district. He’s the owner of a graphics and printing company, and his Voters’ Pamphlet statement shows a focus on protecting jobs in extraction industries.

His opponent Drew Layda is a certified “saturation diver,” a specialty in which highly trained workers spend prolonged periods deep underwater, often beneath offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Layda, 48, lives on an 85-foot boat near Sauvie Island, where he can fish for salmon and steelhead from the stern of his vessel and walk to where he hunts elk.

So, an interesting guy. But we were troubled by his rhetoric. We asked Layda our last, fun question: Name an experience that brought you optimism that the pandemic might be ending. Some candidates say it was when they went to a concert, or visited an elderly relative who’d been quarantined. Layda’s answer was much different.

“It was the moment the lockdown started,” he said. “I decided I was not participating. I did not wear a mask. I decided I wasn’t going to allow the edicts of a public administration to carry the simulated gravity of fully ratified legislation.”

Such contempt for the health of his fellow Oregonians is disqualifying. We’re endorsing Brian Stout.

House District 34 (Washington County)

Lisa Reynolds - Democrat

Some lawmakers draw too much upon their own lives when they arrive in Salem. There’s nothing more tiresome than legislating by anecdote. But Dr. Lisa Reynolds, 58, a pediatrician seeking her second term in a district that covers a portion of unincorporated east Washington County, brings to the Capitol not only three decades of ministering to children but a lifetime of knowledge about living with a family member who suffers from schizophrenia.

Those two experiences form key poles of Reynolds’ life: a focus on the healthy development of young people and an understanding of how challenging mental illness is, both for the patient and the patient’s family. In her rookie term, Reynolds earned a reputation as an effective, plainspoken lawmaker. She continued her long-term interest in promoting gun safety, helping to pass a hard-fought gun storage bill.

Reynolds’ opponent, lawyer Jennifer Kinzey, 31, is relatively new to Oregon, having moved here in 2017 and spent a couple of years since then earning a degree overseas. Kinzey wants to go to Salem to advocate for more and better child care, but she’s not quite ready yet.

Moment of joy when Reynolds felt life was returning to normal: She went to Keller Auditorium last fall to see Jesus Christ Superstar.

House District 35 (Aloha)

Farrah Chaichi - Democrat

Two newcomers are taking a shot at succeeding state Rep. Wlnsvey Campos, who’s running for the Oregon Senate after one term representing this district that includes Aloha and parts of Beaverton.

Zeloszelos Marchandt, 42, a journalist and owner of a small theater, has chaired the Washington County Democrats’ Black caucus and is seeking to become the first trans person to serve in the Legislature. Farrah Chaichi, 36, an administrator at a law firm, is the daughter of an Iranian immigrant father and lost her mother to COVID-19. Chaichi has also been active in the Democratic Party. She took the bold step of calling on Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) to resign in 2019 over his mishandling of a sexual harassment scandal in the Capitol. Both candidates have compelling personal narratives and boast strong community involvement, but Chaichi, who snagged endorsements from both Campos and Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty, demonstrated a clearer focus in our interview.

Moment of joy when Chaichi felt life was returning to normal: She and her partner were able to fly to Florida over the winter holidays to visit family.

House District 38 (Lake Oswego)

Daniel Nguyen - Democrat

Rep. Andrea Salinas is making a run for Congress, vacating her seat in this deep blue district. Both the Democratic candidates seeking to succeed her are people of color who’ve been politically active in one of the whitest cities in the area.

Daniel Nguyen, 43, is the owner of three Bambuza restaurants. He joined the Lake Oswego City Council in 2019 and championed a diversity and equity inclusion task force to look at city hiring practices. (The council plans to make it a permanent advisory board.) He also helped inch along the redevelopment of two city blocks into a mixed-use complex that reserved a number of units for low-income residents.

His opponent, Neelam Gupta, 51, is a director at the Oregon Health Authority who joined the city’s school board after her daughter was the victim of racist bullying. She’s helping to craft curricula that address biases and has helped place new books written by local authors of color into schools.

Neither candidate overwhelmed us. But we think Nguyen’s even-keeled work in city government, understanding of small business challenges and championing of racial diversity initiatives suggests he can do the same in Salem. We’re glad Gupta is on the school board—she’s a passionate voice.

Moment of joy when Nguyen felt life was returning to normal: When his kids first went back to school after pandemic closures.

House District 40 (Oregon City, Gladstone)

Charles Gallia - Democrat

This district wraps along the banks of the Willamette and Clackamas rivers in Oregon City and Gladstone—you’ll find Willamette Falls here and High Rocks. You won’t find incumbent Mark Meek, who’s running for the state Senate.

The best contender to succeed him is Charles Gallia, 64. We’ve long had a soft spot for Gallia, who ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 2018. Gallia concedes that his ambition is narrow: He wants universal health care. But his qualifications are extensive: He spent 15 years at the Oregon Health Authority and has helped a state task force craft a policy to expand coverage.

His opponent, James Farley, is equally well-spoken and knowledgeable. Farley, 65, worked for private health care giants, including UnitedHealth Group. He just retired, and his bid for public office appears to stem from a sincere noblesse oblige. Voters in the district are lucky to have a choice between two experienced professionals. But we think on the issue that matters most in this contest, Gallia is right.

Moment of joy when Gallia felt life was returning to normal: As President Joe Biden visited Portland, “it finally felt real.”

Adam Baker - Republican

Adam Baker is a cop. Daniel Tooze is a Proud Boy. Easy call.

Baker, 47, was among the most thoughtful Republicans to visit our office this cycle. He’s the chief drone pilot for the Gresham Police Department, with previous stints as a spokesman and a hostage negotiator. He offered a sober critique of Oregon’s experiment with decriminalizing hard drugs, and we look forward to seeing him face off with the Democratic nominee in November—we think he and Gallia would make worthy foils.

Tooze, as this newspaper has previously reported, is the self-proclaimed Proud Boy whose private security firm guarded meetings of the Multnomah County Republican Party—a step in the county party’s splintering into militancy and street brawling—and reserved Oregon City’s Clackamette Park for a rally that turned into a melee with anti-fascists that filled the city streets with the stink of bear spray. His very candidacy is an embarrassment to his party. Baker is a candidate of whom the GOP can be proud.

Moment of joy when Baker felt life was returning to normal: A Primus concert at Edgefield.

House District 41 (Milwaukie)

Mark Gamba - Democrat

The March announcement by Rep. Karin Power that she would not seek a fourth term came as a shock. Power, 38, had established herself as a star in the Democratic caucus, a leading voice on environmental and child care issues. But Power was one of three lawmakers who announced they would not run again because they were no longer willing to do full-time work for part-time pay.

Several people hurried to replace Power before the filing deadline. The two leading candidates would both be a notable downgrade from Power, although they share her progressive values.

Mark Gamba, 63, is finishing his second term as mayor of Milwaukie, and is barred by city charter from seeking a third. A former National Geographic photographer, Gamba has enjoyed playing the know-it-all kid brother at the south edge of Portland as the larger city struggles with basic tasks that don’t seem to fluster Milwaukie (like picking up trash). What impresses us more is Gamba’s commitment to addressing climate change at a local level. He says his first bill would require a reduction in carbon emissions from housing construction, and he rightly criticizes the Portland Clean Energy Fund as a slush fund with few benchmarks for making the region greener.

Yet it’s on this point that Gamba is most vulnerable to attack. His opponent, Kaliko Castille, 34, is a Native Hawaiian and communications director for the racial equity nonprofit Brown Hope. (He previously led the Minority Cannabis Business Association.) He rightly points out that few people in the Legislature share his background—and that there’s something presumptuous about Gamba shouldering into the race after Castille had entered.

This is undeniably true. But it’s also the case that Gamba can point to a record of accomplishment—and a tough-mindedness about safeguarding the public treasury—that Castille didn’t demonstrate much interest in during our interview.

We wish we were getting Power. But we’ll settle for Gamba.

Moment of joy when Gamba felt life was returning to normal: “A group of old friends in Milwaukie—we just happened to end up at the Beer Store at the same time.”

Bob “Elvis” Clark - Republican

Both men vying for the GOP nomination in House District 41, which covers Milwaukie, belong to their city’s Public Safety Advisory Committee. But when we asked them which issue they’d attack first in Salem, both Bob “Elvis” Clark, 68, a retired utility economist, and Rob Reynolds, 51, who sells commercial security systems, gave the same answer: tolls. They don’t like the state’s long, slow effort to charge motorists to use its interstate highways. Clark, who worked for the Bonneville Power Administration and the Oregon Public Utility Commission, has a better grasp of economics and market forces. He is more concerned about climate change and is “sort of” pro-choice. (He also legally changed his middle name to Elvis in 2019, because friends called him that already.) His positions are more in tune with our values and those in his overwhelmingly Democratic district.

Moment of joy when Clark felt life was returning to normal: He enjoyed going to his local Safeway last summer but that’s it, he reports. “My wife keeps things pretty buttoned down.”

House District 45 (Northeast Portland)

Thuy Tran - Democrat

After eight years in the Legislature, former House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner (D-Portland) is not seeking reelection. That opens up a seat that encompasses much of Portland’s Parkrose neighborhood, with Northeast 82nd Avenue bisecting the district.

Two doctors are vying to fill the vacant seat: Thuy Tran, an optometric physician and lieutenant colonel for the Air National Guard, and Catherine Thomasson, an internal medicine physician and environmental health policy specialist.

Thomasson, 64, has built a career centered on climate health and environmental justice. The Democratic Party Environmental Caucus chair and former executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility advocates eliminating natural gas emissions in Oregon, as well as implementing policies that increase the amount of carbon that forest lands can absorb, such as requiring a longer period of time for trees to grow before they can be cut.

Tran, 55, immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam when she was 9 years old. If elected, she would become the second Asian American currently serving in the Oregon Legislature (after Rep. Khanh Pham, who was elected in 2020). Her background as an immigrant and person of color is especially relevant in District 45, which is among the most ethnically diverse in Portland.

The two candidates differ in their views on policing—a topic especially germane to their district, where gun violence rates are among the highest in Portland.

We asked the candidates about a pivotal moment that occurred in June 2020, as police reform measures swept the country, when the city removed school resource officers from Portland Public Schools. Thomasson supported this decision. Tran, a member of the Parkrose School Board, did not. She argued that students need exposure to police officers at school to learn how to interact with them.

“Our police officers put their lives on the line all the time. And the school is a very safe environment for a relationship to be established, for trust to be developed, so that a student can come to the police in that environment,” Tran said. “But if they don’t have exposure, and they get into an incident, there’s going to be fear.”

Tran signified that she may be better suited than her opponent to build consensus across the aisle. We appreciated her nuanced approach to policing issues, and she has demonstrated a firmer grasp on the specific issues affecting her district.

Moment of joy when Tran felt life was returning to normal: Visiting her boyfriend’s mom, who lives in a care facility: “She was able to see my smile.”

House District 52 (East Multnomah County)

Jeff Helfrich - Republican

From East Multnomah County through Corbett and out to The Dalles, House District 52 covers a wide variety of terrain—including Mount Hood.

Incumbent Rep. Anna Williams (D-Hood River) is stepping down after two terms, unable, she says, to continue doing full-time work for part-time pay. Williams’ predecessor, Jeff Helfrich, a retired Portland cop who held the seat from 2017 to 2019, wants his old job back. He faces Dr. James Born, a clinical psychologist from Welches, in this race.

Unlike Helfrich, who served in the Air Force and also worked for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office after the Portland Police Bureau and also served on the Cascade Locks City Council, Born has little record of civic engagement. His platform is even thinner. Helfrich also has the endorsement of state Sen. Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River) and Helfrich’s predecessor, former state Rep. Mark Johnson (R-Hood River).

As a lawmaker, Helfrich hoped to create an enterprise zone in Cascade Locks, which has historically been starved for economic development. He’s a sunny optimist who hopes to take advantage of voters’ unhappiness to surmount Democrats 3,500-voter registration advantage in an increasingly blue part of the region. We’ll see—but he’s by far the most qualified Republican hopeful.

Moment of joy when Helfrich felt life was returning to normal: When he and fellow grocery shoppers could see each other’s teeth.

See more of Willamette Week’s May 2022 Endorsements here!