LET US GUESS. Your ballot arrived and your first thought was, "It's not November, is it?"
No, druggie, it's May. And that means it's time for local elections and primaries. These are the people who will actually affect your life more than Obama. Do you care about homeless people sleeping on Portland's streets? Do you care about funding for local schools? How about police oversight or a planned $3 billion bridge to Vancouver? So: vote.
Democracy is complicated, as you may have noticed when you unfolded your ballot. Many of the candidates running in this May's election are essentially unopposed and some are facing off in races that will be decided here in the primary rather than in November. We're doing democracy a favor. We have spent (countless, painful) hours interviewing almost every single candidate on the ballot. Even those who are unopposed. Even the one who brought a gun into our office.
Not sure what house and senate district you live in? CHECK THE MAP!
Let us edu-tain you! Click on a race for the inside scoop on our cheater's ballot.
Ron Wyden might get slapped out of his complacent funk by a credible Republican in the fall.
Wyden, who is untouchable in the state's Democratic party, thanks to his ability to bring in sizable campaign donations, is an aloof dude who spends a great deal of time in New York City with his family.
For example, he refused to come in and meet us for an endorsement interview, even though he does technically have two challengers: fitness consultant Pavel Goberman, whose website implores Oregonians to "GET ENERGIZED" and work out with—we mean, vote for him; and farmer Loren Hooker, whose anti-immigration credentials are pretty unnerving.
Wyden's specialty during the health care debate seemed to be trying to take credit for President Barack Obama's ideas: "I came up with the Healthy Americans Act first," he seemed intent on saying, while keeping quiet on all his health industry campaign donations and failing to offer vocal support for a public option when it was really needed ["Why Not, Wyden? Oregon Senator Lukewarm on Obama's Health Reform," Blogtown, June 9, 2009].
We're not sure what was more disappointing: Wyden's antics, or the fact that nobody in the Democratic congressional caucus had the guts to go on the record and slam him.
Now our senator is working on some wacko bipartisan tax reform package that has zero chance of going anywhere. We just don't understand him. But sure, cast your vote.
Then there's Jim Huffman, the dean of Lewis and Clark Law School for the last 13 years. Huffman stands out from a handful of Republican candidates for this office because of his "concern that Senator Wyden really ought to have some serious competition."
Wyden didn't leverage enough out of health reform for Oregon, thinks Huffman.
"And I've talked to people in DC who suggest that he's sort of a back-bencher," he says. "I think he gets credit for having influence and being more bipartisan than he really is. And if you ask him what he really stands for, people don't really know."
Huffman is pro-choice, and he thinks climate change exists. He supports civil unions for gay people but not full marriage. So we can live with him, as far as Republicans go. But best of all, he admits "the state of the Republican party in Oregon has really been pathetic for several years."
Exactly. And that's what's allowed morons like Ron Wyden to flourish.
"I think David Wu is about David Wu," says former Marine David Robinson, who is running in the Democratic primary against the incumbent Wu. "I've not seen him around the district. I've never seen him answer the question, 'What are you fighting for?'"
Having completed three Ironman Triathlons, electrical engineer Robinson is now running hard for Wu's office, campaigning seven days a week despite being outmatched in campaign funds 10 to one.
Wu's "three biggies" in terms of bad votes, says Robinson, were voting to give Medicare money to drug companies, voting with the Bush administration on No Child Left Behind, and again on a bankruptcy bill which makes it harder for individuals to declare bankruptcy. Wu has only passed two bills in 12 years, says Robinson, including one to rename the Beaverton post office. Woot.
Robinson supports gay rights, as well as overturning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." "It's a rule that doesn't make sense," he says. "Its time has come and gone." And he's pro-choice, too. In fact, he doesn't seem to be hiding anything nasty.
Plus, while he would have voted for the recent health reform bill, he also likes the idea of single-payer health care. He's only raised $30,000, compared to Wu, who has raised half a million dollars. "But I don't think it's an insurmountable hurdle," he says. "I'm not a person who goes out and tilts at windmills."
Wu didn't fancy coming in for an interview. So, yeah. Vote for David Robinson!
We didn't get a chance to meet the four Republican candidates in this race, although mortgage broker John Kuzmanich is the likely front-runner, and we met him at a Tea Party rally outside the Oregonian's offices and KGW's studio on Pioneer Square last year ['Can You Hear Us Now?' News, October 22, 2009].
"Americans are out there, and we're not getting any coverage," he told KGW reporter Joe Donlon on a live broadcast. With a totally straight face.
Communications consultant Joyce Segers is running against Republican incumbent Greg Walden, whose huge district covering Eastern and Southern Oregon, tends to send more folks off to war than any other. Segers knows about the effects of war more intimately than most politicians: Her late husband, a Korean War veteran, committed suicide in January 2004. She's finding that talking about veterans' affairs has helped her build relationships on the campaign trail.
"Veterans aren't prepared when they come home," says Segers. "You actually have to make an application for benefits. It's something that needs more funding and there shouldn't be any excuse for them to be aided in every aspect that they're coming from."
Primarily, though, Segers got into the race because of health care, having recently sold her medical billing company in Florida, which she ran for 20 years before moving to Ashland. Walden got over 60 percent of the vote when he ran for this seat in 2008, so defeating him will be a tall order, especially since her grassroots campaign has raised only $8,000. But Southern Oregon has been ignored by Democrats, Segers thinks.
"There are a lot of people who consider the district a throwaway," she says. "But I don't think that's right. It's basically going out there and talking to people."
Walden was recently promoted to be deputy chairman of the Republican National Congressional Committee. "His focus is going to be on that, and not on the district, from now on," says Segers, who adds: "My next month is all about fundraising."
Walden declined to come in for interview.
Streetcar loving bicycle transportation guru Earl Blumenauer has a challenger in the primary—John Sweeney, a gun rights advocate who brought his Beretta to our interview.
"I probably shoot about 250 rounds a month," said Sweeney, who thinks that since many criminals have HIV/AIDS, it's best to "defeat them at a distance."
Sweeney would also like to see meteorites more tightly controlled—with a better plan from NASA to deal with near earth objects.
"Some of the astronomers are saying one hit is better than a lot of little hits," he says. "But if I shoot you with a rifle at 150 yards, it's going to be devastating. If I shoot you with bird shot, you'd barely feel it."
Evocative imagery, John. Thanks.
"We've reached the point where any rational conversation about Second Amendment rights has been completely hijacked," says Blumenauer. "Things like the gun show loophole, where there's opportunities for dicey people to purchase weapons. But these advocates try to make it a hysterical issue."
Blumenauer caught heat in the health care debate for proposing the "death panels," which he now describes as his "near-death panel experience." But we admired his effort to get sensible discussion of end-of-life options into the debate, even if it was hijacked successfully by Sarah Palin.
People are frustrated and apprehensive, Blumenauer admits.
"If you're living on 73rd and NE Glisan and your house is worth 15 percent less than you paid for it, and your pension is down a third in value, and you're getting no interest on your savings, then you have a right, I think, to feel apprehensive," he says
He plans to focus on implementing health care in the next session.
We didn't get a chance to meet realtor Delia Lopez, his Republican challenger in the general election.
Peter DeFazio's outspoken, irascible style is refreshing in Oregon politics.
"I'm willing to stand up for what I believe in," he says. "Even if it brings consequences, or criticism, and I speak firmly."
He's pissed with President Obama's financial advice team, for example, and says US Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner is essentially angling for a job at Goldman Sachs. Obama's economic team thinks "wealth is created on Wall Street," he says. "They're very slanted."
DeFazio also voted against the stimulus bill, when he saw that the Republicans were stacking it with tax cuts, instead of school construction and building infrastructure.
"I'm pretty angry about it," he admits. "The economy is struggling, still."
In his last term, DeFazio also pushed to get recognition of geographic disparities into the new health care bill. "The East Coast states, generally, get three times as much for every Medicare procedure, as do we," he explains. "In the end it took someone to switch their vote and say, 'hey, if we can't do this, I'm just going to vote no.'"
If reelected, DeFazio wants to continue his work on transportation, to transform the country's network of highways "from the Eisenhower era," to deal with carbon issues.
We didn't get a chance to meet DeFazio's Republican challengers, Jaynee Germond and Art Robinson.
Germond has been enthusiastically received at Tea Party events across the state for the last year, while Robinson is a chemist opposed to the idea of global warming.
"He wants to abolish public education," says DeFazio. "Among other things."
Kurt Schrader is a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat who votes with his party 97 percent of the time. A veterinarian turned career politician, Schrader climbed the state political ranks to his national seat, and swept into office with the blue wave in 2008. Republicans promise Schrader will face a stiff competition in his swing district from Republican Scott Bruun, who will receive extra money and support under the Republicans' eerily named "Young Guns" program.
In his two years in office, Schrader has stuck with the more liberal elements of his party, voting for the stimulus and against the unsavory portion of the health care reform bill banning federal funds from being used for abortion services. Bruun, currently a state representative and former head of a construction company, is mainly promising to end Oregon's record-high unemployment.
- Illustrations by Wilder Schmaltz
Grit your teeth and vote for John Kitzhaber as the Democratic Party candidate for Oregon governor. Yes, this is the Mercury's endorsement, even though Kitzhaber is clearly the less revolutionary choice in the Democratic primary.
His opponent Bill Bradbury has outspoken positions on the Columbia River Crossing, closing the coal-powered plant at Boardman by 2014, and never using liquid natural gas (LNG) in the state.
"We should invest for the future in what we think we need," says Bradbury. "Not just some vision from 1950."
Meanwhile, Kitzhaber thinks we should reassess the Columbia River Crossing bridge design and look at "low-carbon" solutions that include tolling, but he won't go as far as Bradbury's "seismic upgrade" line for the existing bridge. Kitzhaber wants to close Boardman as soon as possible, but he won't set an arbitrary date. He's also against LNG, but won't say "never."
Bradbury has suggested reconfiguring the state's tax credit system to divert $2 billion to K-12 education, and creating a Bank of Oregon to give loans to small businesses so they can get off the ground. He seems genuinely committed to progressive goals and his deep roots in the Democratic Party. We really do salute his chutzpah.
But Bradbury admits that his idea of the governorship is "aspirational."
"I think that's the job—to put some goals that we all share and say, 'Let's work together to try to get there,'" Bradbury says. "My job is not just to manage through hard times. My job is to be an aspirational leader to say here's where we all can work together to go."
Meanwhile, the state is facing a likely $2.5 billion budget hole. Kitzhaber says we need to "recognize that we're entering an era of fiscal austerity, whether we like it or not," and he wants to see the state through it.
We trust him to ride that bucking budget like the cowboy he is.
As a doctor and former Oregon governor for eight years, Kitzhaber knows the health reform debate inside out, and wants to work on a health system more focused on prevention to save costs. We like his idea for community-based health practitioners, for example. Plus we feel that his contacts in the health world could help make it a reality. Bradbury is focused on delivery of a public option, which we support. But Kitzhaber, once again, is more of a realist.
"Of course I support a public option," Kitzhaber says. "I'd support a single-payer model too, if we could pass it. But both of these are a way to pay for something. The problem isn't health care; it's what we're buying. My frustration with the national debate is that it's been focused on insurance reform and not on the delivery of these preventative services."
Kitzhaber once described Oregon as moving toward being "ungovernable." And he admits that he's even more concerned about divisions in the state between business and government since the passage of Measures 66 and 67. But perhaps more than Bradbury, he wants to bring both sides together to debate the state's financial future. And that's what's going to help him win in the general election. We hope.
Increasingly, it looks like Kitzhaber's opponent in the general election will be the enormous former basketball player Chris Dudley. Dudley says he'll "take it as a compliment" that he's been described on the campaign trail as "Reaganesque." That speaks for itself.
We're endorsing Dudley's primary opponent Allen Alley in a heartbeat. But it seems that Alley's expertise in job creation—he grew Pixelworks from $10,000 to $1 billion in sales over a decade—is nothing compared to Dudley's ability to essentially buy himself a three-point shot (get it?) at the governorship.
Case in point: Dudley raised $1.1 million before he went on TV with his campaign and spent $800,000 of it on campaign consultants, says Alley. Dudley says job creation and education funding are his top priorities, but it's not clear how he'll deliver them. Maybe he can ask his consultants?
Alley's not a perfect candidate, by any means. "Life begins at conception," is a troublesome statement. Not to mention his "buy one MRI, get another MRI free" plan for health reform. But he sure seems a lot more substantial than the big man.
Still, we think Oregon voters might be wooed by Dudley come November. And that terrifies us. So... grit your teeth and vote for Kitzhaber for his centrist appeal.
This is a tough primary to call, since both Democratic candidates, Ted Wheeler and Rick Metsger, would do well in the position.
Metsger, a 12-year senator from conservative Welches, has experience in the legislature and was chief co-sponsor of the 2009 Jobs and Transportation Act. Wheeler, on the other hand, paid down the budget deficit at Multnomah County during his tenure as chair, while managing an ever-diminishing budget. And he really banged the drum for mental health issues while he was there, too, which we appreciated.
Both candidates want to create jobs, encourage better fiscal education in our school system, and hold Wall Street accountable by asking the right questions of financial management companies when it comes to investing the state's $60 billion pension fund. During our interview, the two sparred over who might have a better opportunity to defeat Chris Telfer, a Republican State Senator from Bend, in the general election.
Metsger cited his experience working with the business community in the Senate as proof that he can work both sides of the aisle. Wheeler, in turn, said his endorsements—from pretty much every paper in the state, as well as renowned centrists like Attorney General John Kroger—show that he's got broad backing.
We say: Vote for Wheeler. As well as the technical investment knowledge he brings from his prior job in fund management, he's promised to organize a statewide jobs strategy that brings together all the disparate groups, including the business community, across the state.
"We've had this divisive 66/67 battle, and if we need a unified strategy, we need them all here," he says. "I can help lead that process going forward."
No offense to Metsger, but his role in passing 66 and 67 in the Senate is likely to tarnish his rep with the business community, in comparison. Meanwhile, Wheeler was a registered Republican once upon a time. And he works out at the exclusive Multnomah Athletic Club. Enough said.
Suzanne Bonamici's district is pretty diverse, stretching from the Pearl District, up to Linnton, through parts of the city of Beaverton, all the way out to parts of unincorporated Washington County. It includes chichi condos and one of the largest trailer parks in the state.
Bonamici was appointed to this office in 2008, when her predecessor Brad Avakian became the state's labor commissioner. Before that, she was a state representative since 2006.
Bonamici cut her teeth in Washington at the Federal Trade Commission, under Reagan. Then she moved to Oregon to practice law and got involved in the Beaverton school district—advocating for more funding for schools.
Hard working, Bonamici serves on three senate committees, including chairing the committee for consumer protection and public affairs. She passed a bill that forces banks to offer to meet with their clients before foreclosing on their homes. And she gave the attorney general authority regarding enforcement of aggressive debt collection, too.
She also serves on the education committee and the judiciary committee, where she's had to contend with Republican activist Kevin Mannix and his effort to impose tighter mandatory minimum sentences on various offenders.
"We need to look at that data," she says. "We can't assume that the longer you leave someone incarcerated, the less likely they are to reoffend. Especially with young people."
"One of the things I really want to emphasize with your readers is that I want to be as accessible as possible," she adds. So, call her up for a constituent coffee. Why not?
We didn't get the chance to meet with Bonamici's Republican opponent in the general election, banker Steven Kirkpatrick.
The race for Senate Majority Leader Richard Devlin's Lake Oswego seat is interesting because of what's happening across the aisle in the Republican primary.
Retired attorney Steve Griffith doesn't seem to have a problem throwing $20,000 of his own money into this race, which shows he wants to win. But he's a Roosevelt-era Republican in a Palin-era world. He supported Measure 66 because, as a former partner at Stoel Rives law firm, he previously fell into the income bracket the tax would hit: Oregon's wealthiest two percent. We like that he was willing to tax himself more.
Meanwhile, Griffith's opponent, Mary Kremer, is a Tea Party wingnut. We'll be interested to see who prevails between them.
Devlin says he's watching the Republican race.
"I think they're obviously very interested in running," he says. "They both believe that they would do a good job."
Devlin's running on his record, rather than badmouthing either of his Republican opponents, he says.
"I just think when you look at this, I'm the best prepared candidate," Devlin says. "And I've got a pretty solid record on the issues that are important to the people in the district."
Lake Oswego is full of rich people, which might give rise to fears that they'll vote against Devlin over Measures 66 and 67. But Devlin says many of them are "middle class, and some of them upper middle class, but I think they have the same concerns that most people have—they're concerned about their kids in public schools, about higher education. I think people are very civic minded."
Chip Shields recently stepped into this North Portland senate seat following the retirement of former State Senator Margaret Carter. It's been a busy year for him, working most recently on getting 'minority impact statements' into new sentencing measures at the state. He introduced the bill in 2007, and expects to get it passed in 2011—he's been building relationships with more conservative legislators to make it happen.
Shields is also continuing to work on sentencing reform—having been a vocal critic of Oregon's mandatory sentencing structures under Kevin Mannix's Measure 11, which locks up a lot of young African American men in his district.
"But changing Measure 11 is really tough," he admits. "And to get there you're going to have to find things that the public is going to be sympathetic to."
He's now looking forward to working with John Kitzhaber, should he win the governor's race, on a program called "Second Look."
"I think it makes sense that a 15-year-old who's a first time offender should be treated differently than a 30-year-old who's done crimes again and again," he says.
Prison reform is a toxic political issue and we need more politicians like Shields who are willing to stand up for common sense in sentencing. He's also gone up against health insurance lobbyists over their exorbitant premium hikes. Baller.
Shields' Republican opponent in the general election will either be production engineer Dwayne Runyan—a former Navy professional who seems nice enough, albeit a little too nostalgic for Navy life to be suited to the drudgery of the legislature—or Marcus Tempey, a Wackenhut security guard who is running on a platform to lower taxes and, er... lower taxes. He thinks Shields has "never met a tax hike he didn't love."
"His whole profession has been to turn predatory violent criminals into a client base where he can get them nice jobs in the community," Tempey continues. "That's a nice job, as long as the body politic in general is being taken care of."
Well, yes. Except we're interested in outcomes and not just soundbites, Marcus.
Incumbent Rod Monroe is a career politician who served a term in the state legislature in the 1970s before working as a Metro councilor for 12 years. He's a moderate to left-leaning Democrat, and topping Monroe's lifelong to-do list is getting more funding for education. As a high school history teacher and later a professor at George Fox University, Monroe has seen how strapped budgets affect Oregon's schools.
"Anything that has to do with public education, I've probably been in the thick of it," he says.
In the next session, he promises to kick the kicker. "The whole corporate kicker oughta go automatically into a rainy-day bucket," he says. "It's just fiscal stupidity, and there's no other law like it in the nation. But to repeal it would be very difficult. It's the Tea Party mentality, and that's not me. I will fight those things, even if it costs me reelection."
With his experience working on transportation for Metro, Monroe's got a smart perspective on the Columbia River Crossing. While he supports the current scaled-back $3.6 billion design, Monroe says the project should be phased, building light rail and bike/ped facilities first and tolling the bridge before building the more expensive freeway interchanges.
His most controversial bill in recent years was his spearheading of an attempt to make urban renewal areas noncontiguous, so money from downtown Portland's River District could be funneled into the ailing David Douglas School District. That prompted a lawsuit, and ultimately, it wasn't the best idea.
Monroe's opponents—Democrats Ron McCarty and Dave Mowry, and Republican Rob Wheeler—are all on the crank end of the scale and did not come in for interviews. But speaking of "cranks," Monroe's an avid biker. Rare for an East Portlander, even rarer for a 67-year-old.
This seat covers the Pearl District, Portland's second richest legislative district (after Lake Oswego), according to Mitch Greenlick. For the Democrats, Greenlick is running unopposed in the primary. He's a former Kaiser wonk with 40 years experience in health policy, who was involved in his first political campaign in 1944 as a 9-year old —handing out leaflets for Franklin D. Roosevelt's reelection. Punchy, likeable, and unafraid to take on his critics, he's a tough legislator with a firm grasp of the budgetary implications of his votes. He's been a legislator since 2003, and we think you should give him another term.
On the Republican side, Greenlick will have to contend in the general election with health consultant Michael Bieker, who is angry about—surprise, surprise—Measures 66 and 67, which raised taxes on corporation and the rich. Bieker is also critical of the growth of government spending over the years, but had no solid ideas about how to cut government spending and seemed to have a weak handle on who actually controls the pots of money he's upset about. He's also only raised $350 for his race.
As a consultant who helps health care companies get federal dollars from the government, it seemed odd for Bieker to be criticizing the growth of government spending in health care because of "middle men." We also couldn't figure out why he'd be happy paying $1,300 a month for health insurance for his family, with a $5,000 deductible, and still be against health reform.
Mary Nolan counts as an old-timer after serving five sessions in the legislature, and thanks to her strongly Democratic district, her race is a no contest.
Most recently Nolan has devoted herself to the nitty gritty of health care reform and smart land-use policy. Nolan says her top priority in the next session will be pushing back on insurance and pharmaceutical companies to implement the health care fixes the legislature approved last year. The changes Nolan helped get through the Oregon House last year aren't huge or sexy. But they are important reforms that will help hundreds of thousands of Oregonians save money; for example, now large groups of Oregonians who use the same medication can bond together to buy it, scoring a group discount.
Nolan also wants to make sure our land-use planning system encourages compact development and transit—an important stance for a legislator whose district includes Beaverton, Garden Home, and other suburbs that could be ripe for expansion. She suggests having the state's land-use commission help small Oregon cities do the sophisticated urban planning that carries too high of a price for their tiny city budgets. And with her smart-growth mindset, Nolan opposes the current plan for the Columbia River Crossing, which she says will not significantly improve freight traffic but will push gridlock south along I-5 (to the tune of $3.6 billion) and negatively impact the environment.
Her Republican general opponent, Diane Schendel, did not make it in for an interview. But her Twitter bio says: "Just say no to socialism." Yep.
Jules Kopel Bailey is a rookie star in the legislature. Representing the state's most liberal district (inner Southeast Portland), urban planning consultant-turned-politician Bailey is an outspoken and knowledgeable voice on environmental issues, public transit, and bike funding.
There's one controversial note on his record: His support of the Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) whose tax rebates to green energy companies wound up costing the state 40 times more than legislators thought it would. But Bailey says that in the next session, he's committed to reforming the BETC and making it an effective incentive to build alternative energy in Oregon.
"We're going to be doing some major surgery," says Bailey. "We need to do it in a way that we're not creating a huge risk for our general fund. The last thing I want to do is have a debate about schools versus windmills."
Another tough battle he'll be fighting: reworking the Highway Trust Fund to spend more than a measly one percent of the state's transportation budget on bike and pedestrian projects. A bill to do just that died in the last legislative session. "It's a hard hill to run up," admits Bailey.
Easier pitches? Bailey's working a "Cool Schools" bill to make schools more energy efficient and greener.
He's also focusing on teen dating violence, a subset of domestic violence.
"We have increasing rates of young people who are victims of violence and we don't have a lot of structures to make those kids feel safe and get them the resources they need," he says.
We didn't get the chance to meet his Republican opponent Cliff Hutchison.
Lew Frederick is running unopposed in the primary and has no Republican challenger in the general, so he's a shoe-in to represent his Northeast Portland district, which stretches from Interstate to Alameda and has the lowest percentage of registered Republicans in the state.
Good thing then that Frederick's a well-liked representative who's no empty suit. Appointed to his seat just before the February special session (with the Mercury's endorsement, no less), Frederick was one of the few state-level politicians who had the courage and commitment to dive into Portland's police reform controversy in recent months.
During our interview, Frederick explained that it was a lifetime of experiences with racist and unjust police (as well as his positive interactions with many excellent officers, of course), which led him to stand on the steps of the Multnomah County Justice Center at a rally after the Aaron Campbell shooting.
Frederick can recall the time an officer in King City pulled a gun on him at a traffic stop, and the time in the 1970s when Medford cops told him to clear out of town before sunset. It's those kinds of perspectives make him a valuable decision-maker and he expects to work on police reform from a state level during the next session, perhaps partnering with the state's Human Rights Commission or Bureau of Labor and Industries.
Frederick's wife was also hospitalized with mental health issues this year. His insight into these issues and commitment to use his role in Salem as a "bully pulpit" to convince other legislators to "reciprocate" on mental health funding, where they are seeking his vote on other issues, is commendable. In addition to his commitment to a more responsible police force and mental health funding, this legislative rookie is prioritizing job creation, aiming to attract manufacturing jobs to Northeast Portland. He also has innovative ideas about brownfield transformation across the city, training Northeast Portlanders to do the decontamination.
For a queer North Portlander, Tina Kotek is a pretty moderate liberal. Though she's the only openly gay legislator in Oregon, Kotek isn't putting equality issues or gay rights at the top of her to-do list when she heads back to Salem next year. She is on board with Basic Rights Oregon's campaign for marriage equality, but they're not planning to push the issue until at least 2012.
Until then, Kotek is focusing on the state's dollars and cents. She's worried about the state budget—she points out that in addition to declining revenues going into the next fiscal year, the state won't be getting the one-time stimulus dollars that kept it afloat last year.
During her two sessions in the legislature, most recently as the majority whip, Kotek has backed some common sense, practical bills, like a law banning employers from doing credit checks during the recruitment process.
Kotek's Republican challenger in the general, Kitty Harmon, showed up for our endorsement interview wearing a purple trench coat and sucking on a purple throat-coat lollipop—she had laryngitis.
"Hi, I'm your token Republican opposition," she said, shaking Kotek's hand for the first time.
As a counselor at University of Portland, Harmon sees herself as a pragmatic, money-conscious Republican. Maybe it was the sore throat, but she barely uttered a sentence during our interview, although she did manage to describe herself as "one of those anti-government people," and her profile on ResistNet.com—the "Home of the Patriotic Resistance"—includes her suggestion that Oregonian Republicans need to emulate the Tea Partiers in Utah.
We'd like to see Kotek win this one in November.
Richard Ellmyer is also running against Kotek in the primary, as a Democrat. He has continued to prove himself a total nutbag—appearing at frequent city council sessions to berate councilors on affordable housing in his district—and we're loath to even mention his name here. The feeling is apparently mutual, as he ignored our invitations to show for an endorsement interview.
Michael Dembrow's district in Maywood Park has more registered Independents than Republicans—perhaps a holdover from the days when the area voted to secede from Portland rather than let the city build a freeway through their neighborhood. In his day job as an English teacher at Portland Community College, Dembrow has become convinced that the state should kick the kicker: Instead of sending surplus revenue back to taxpayers, it should go into a rainy day fund instead.
"A lot of my students are living the very issues that we're discussing down in the capitol," he says. A former union organizer at the college, Dembrow brings a collaborative sensibility to his committee work in Salem. Unambitious, and older than most freshmen legislators, in his own words, "I don't want to be governor."
But this has counted in his favor, as his earnest work to foster collaboration has led to results. Dembrow's Republican challenger in the general, direct sales consultant Anne Marie Gurney, could not be reached for interview.
Sexy outer Southeast representative Ben Cannon's claim to fame is he's the only legislator who has never taken a dime of campaign contributions from corporations or PACs, nixing those traditional deep-pocketed donors. Although to be fair, what's the worry? His district is about as safe as they come. And we'll be interested to see if Cannon has the guts to stick to his small-donor pledge if he ever runs in a competitive race.
His work to raise the beer tax in the last session may have failed because, in his own words, "I came down after 20-odd years of trying to raise this, and I was like, 'come onnnn, guys.'"
He says he may have "learned a lesson" about youthful impetuosity. And the power of lobbyists, of course. Although one of the biggest pleasures of meeting with beer lobbyist Paul Romain was when Romain slid a check across the table to him as a donation, says Cannon, "and I got to slide it right back."
Cannon's Republican challenger, Russell Turner, is a bartender at PF Chang's in Tigard and a musician in a folk-industrialist rock band. He's running what amounts to a suicide mission in the heavily Democratic district mostly just for kicks, it seems.
"I was just amazed to find no one else was running," he says. "In terms of the democratic process, I think it's good to have choices."
He's a nice kid with a "limited government perspective," who believes a progressive tax system only provides hurdles for people who try to create small businesses.
"I don't think it's healthy for those of us who are in the lower classes trying to live the American dream," says Turner, trying to explain his opposition to this past year's tax Measures 66 and 67. Thing is, we don't feel Measures 66 and 67 were targeted at the lower classes. But he's sincere, at least.
Bus Project founder Jefferson Smith may be charismatic, but the dude can be borderline incoherent. He speaks in short, punchy sentences about standing up for his East Portland district, which he's recently started calling "Bedrock."
Smith is a progressive, but it's harder to figure out what, specifically, he stands for. For example: "I will file a bill for campaign financial reform," he says. "I don't want to predict its odds of success, but if past results are an indicator of future likelihood, the likelihood would be low."
So, what's the point? Broadly, we like him, especially compared to his general Republican realtor opponent Dee Flowers, who didn't make it for an interview. He's also quite funny, sometimes. And he's taken some tough outspoken stances, like speaking against the Columbia River Crossing project. But we wish Smith were as good at convincing us he's going to be a capable legislator as he seems to have been at developing the Bus Project.
If he were a narcotics cop, it would be time for Smith to put some drugs on the table.
Mike Schaufler made his money in construction and is a Democrat because of marriage equality and a woman's right to choose. But in Happy Valley, you've got to be pretty centrist to win reelection, and this will be Schaufler's fifth term if he succeeds.
A staunch opponent of raising the beer tax, Schaufler has supported a liquor tax instead because, as he says, "You know all them guys on all them job sites I worked with for all them years? They pay enough taxes. When they go to get a beer at the end of the day, they shouldn't pay another tax on top of it."
He supports broader development to attract more big companies, more logging to take advantage of Oregon's "natural resource," and voted against tax reform Measures 66 and 67 on the floor of the house. Way to go, Mike? Well... it takes all sorts to make a caucus, we suppose. And we appreciated Schaufler's forthrightness in our interview, despite knowing that his opinions were going to leave our hipster sensibilities shocked.
"We have the highest unemployment in America," he said. "I could give you a laundry list of green, sustainable votes I've taken. But you know what? That's not going to fill the holes."
Love him or loathe him—and we kinda loathe his positions, but kinda like him, personally—Schaufler has endorsements from everyone from Basic Rights Oregon to a cattle ranchers' association. And he still sides with the Democrats on what will be next year's crucial issues, like kicker reform.
When he's not getting fiery about land use policy, he loves to talk about his newly finished deck. Seriously. Ask him about it sometime. Dude gets animated.
Schaufler's Republican opponent in the general election, lab owner Kayla Fioravanti, could not be reached for an interview.
We're not rabidly impressed with Susan Castillo's performance in this job. Actually, we'd never heard of her until Willamette Week endorsed her Republican opponent, Ron Maurer, last week.
Sure, this position deserves more scrutiny, and Castillo probably needs a kick in the butt. But we can't see our way to endorsing a man who doesn't "support evolution" and who thinks sex education should be "community driven." That's just ridiculous, guys. Ridiculous!
Both the judge candidates in this race seem solid, but Judge Jack Landau has more relevant experience and broader support, so we say go with him.
Allan Arlow is a 66-year-old judge who was president of Chicago's public radio station WBEZ and worked as a corporate lawyer before coming to Oregon. In the Beaver State, Arlow turned to the public sector, working as an administrative judge for the Public Utility Commission and Bonneville Power Administration.
Fifty-six-year-old Landau is a 17-year-veteran of Oregon's Court of Appeals. His decisions show he's a fair and centrist judge: He wrote the opinion in favor of providing equal health care benefits to LGBT employees in a landmark 1998 case against OHSU, but he also decided in a different case that nude dancing should not be protected as free speech. Bummer! Still, he sounds pretty fair and balanced—exactly what we want in a Supreme Court judge.
Vote for Jeff Cogen, not that you have much choice. One of his opponents, Wes Soderback, is an entertaining fellow who really knows Multnomah County, and while we enjoyed listening to stories about his time in the Merchant Navy, pulling goods up the Saigon River, he ain't county chair material. Cogen's other opponent, Mike Darger, missed our interview, but he's a Tea Party activist, so forget it.
The real scandal in this race is the withdrawal of Steve Novick, who had planned a run, but then changed his mind after a few hours. We suspect the influence of political consultant Mark Wiener—who has worked for both Cogen and Novick—but can't prove it. The result? Cogen gets crowned. Just when the county would benefit from a rigorous discussion about its budgetary priorities.
That's not to say we don't like Cogen. In fact, we think he's well placed to continue former chair Ted Wheeler's conservative fiscal management, although we're not sure he's got Wheeler's backbone when it comes to taking on the tough fights. He vowed to be "a voice at the table" on urban renewal, for example. But he'll need to be more than a voice if he's going to stand up to downtown interests on the creation of a new urban renewal district that's going to take more money away from county services.
He's got good ideas for revenue generation, too. He wants to continue lobbying in Salem for preemption on tobacco taxes, for example, and says he is seriously committed to finding more money for domestic violence victims.
Cogen needs to grow into this role, and be careful that his colleagues don't misinterpret his relaxed persona for political weakness. While he's pushing his sustainability agenda—fine in theory, but in practice, let's hope it's not a distraction—he'll need to stand up to a feisty new sheriff in Dan Staton.
Frankly, we don't understand why anybody would want this job. The role of county chair in the past decade has been to cut budgets year in, year out. But Cogen is the best man to take the helm for the time being, and here's hoping he'll convince us with his leadership over the coming years.
- Illustrations by Wilder Schmaltz
The race for Jeff Cogen's newly vacant North/Northeast Portland seat on the board of county commissioners presents that rare thing in Portland politics: an extensive field of highly qualified candidates. Somehow, not a single one of the candidates is a total nutter who should be avoided at all costs.
Yes, of course, we like Cogen's three-and-a-half-year staffer Karol Collymore. She's young, outspoken, and would bring fresh energy to the office. But we're not sure we agree with the Oregonian that "even in a glittering field, Collymore stands out." Indeed, while they may not all dress quite as snappily or speak as passionately, the other candidates could all excel in this office—it just depends on what you're looking for.
Chuck Currie, for example, has decades of experience working across jurisdictions to secure funding for homeless people and those suffering with mental health issues. He is a strong voice speaking out for more police oversight. We love that.
Maria Rubio managed to work in former Mayor Tom "Convene a Committee" Potter's office for an entire term and still come out with some credibility on public safety issues. She would do a good job of bringing the county and city together.
Paul van Orden has run an innovative campaign based on his personal investment in North Portland over his years as a noise control officer. He wore faux wooden glasses to our interview, and you can't ignore that level of confidence.
Loretta Smith knew everybody at the Reflections Coffee House on NE Killingsworth when we sat down for an interview. She has deep connections from her years as a staffer to US Senator Ron Wyden, and she's raised a bunch of money for the race.
Tom Markgraf may have taken $900,000 to consult on the Columbia River Crossing, but he seems fundamentally decent, and knows the territory when it comes to the county's responsibility to repair its bridges.
Even Gary Hansen, who did the job for years before his semi-retirement, would bring valuable legislative experience to the role, and an everyman's sensibility on the county's budget priorities. Although we'd prefer him to ditch the golf shirts, if possible.
If there's one thing we've learned, it's that coronations are bad for politics in this town. This election presents an opportunity to have a thorough discussion about the county's priorities, and we'll reserve making an endorsement until the likely runoff in November, if that's all right.
Unlike his opponent Muhammad Ra'oof, Dan Staton has the corrections union's support, and he's been doing a good job ever since former Sheriff Bob Skipper had to quit because he couldn't pass the basic certification test for the office. Sheriff Bernie Giusto was also ousted in disgrace before Skipper's term.
We're not sure we think there's much value in having an elected sheriff—it just gets in the way of smart budgeting by the county, and in Skipper's or Giusto's case, it was hardly a barrier to having a doddering old fool or corrupt incompetent rule the roost. But voters love electing their sheriffs, so there it is. Vote for Staton. Let's hope he does a better job than his predecessors.
- Illustrations by Wilder Schmaltz
You've got to vote for Nick Fish. This is the first time we've said so, and it's only now that he's an incumbent with absolutely zero chance of being defeated. Still he deserves the endorsement, based on an impressive record in his first half term in office—having taken on the role after Erik Sten's abrupt departure, midway through his term.
Fish resolved legal troubles with the Pearl District's urban renewal district to successfully fund the Resource Access Center (RAC) for the homeless, which is successfully being built in Old Town as you read this. That's 130 units of affordable housing, shelter space for 90 homeless people, and a substantial amount of private investment to go along with $30 million of urban renewal money he secured for the project.
Recently, Fish shelved plans for a parks bond measure to put a housing levy—with mental health funding in it—on the ballot first. That's the right approach in the budget crisis. We're also impressed with his ability to hold onto funding for homeless services in the city's brutal budget process over the last two years.
Fish is clearly ambitious and focused, and we're pretty sure he's going to take a run against Mayor Sam Adams in two years, even though he's being sheepish about it. We'd welcome it. We're also impressed that Fish has steered well clear of policy-level involvement in the mayor's latest effort to put yet another sit-lie law on Portland's books. Way to take a stand against the city's shortsighted business interests, Nick.
Also, nice "No" vote on Major League Soccer. We're not sure we understand what makes you tick under all those politics of yours, but good work.
Of Fish's opponents, bookkeeper Walt Nichols would actually make a pretty good city commissioner. Affable and shrewd, he points out the few shortcomings in Fish's tenure—there's not enough space for women at the RAC, for example. Still, even Nichols admits that he's not running to win, but to get an understanding of the process. Fish already understands it well enough.
- Illustrations by Wilder Schmaltz
This election comes down to Mayor Sam Adams' foolish decision to hand his most important responsibility over to Commissioner Dan Saltzman—controlling our cops.
"Dan landed in a big cesspool and has done the best he could given the circumstances," says Ed Garren, who has run an outspoken, if unfocused, campaign for Saltzman's seat.
The only person who should take responsibility for the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) is Mayor Adams. But, in his own words, he'd rather focus on other issues. So the question becomes: Should Saltzman be the scapegoat for the mayor's bad decision?
The answer is unequivocally yes, he should. While Saltzman didn't ask for the police bureau, he didn't turn it down, either. Saltzman got passed a turd, and now he's running for reelection holding that turd. Are we supposed to react as though he isn't holding a giant, steaming pile? We don't think so.
Things at the PPB are not improving. Now the cops are out procuring handjobs on the taxpayers' dime ["Tax Dollars for Handjobs," News, April 29], while Saltzman has no comment.
Meanwhile, opponent Jesse Cornett's election campaign has shown that he has no reservations about taking on entrenched political interests—like political consultant Mark Wiener, for example, who works for both Mayor Adams, Commissioner Randy Leonard, and Saltzman. Yes, that may not seem like a big deal, but in this town it amounts to political courage. We'll take it.
Cornett says he would give the police bureau back to the mayor, and we support that. He also makes the right noises on using taxpayer dollars to fund pet projects.
"All we did with this deal is make a rich family richer," he says of Major League Soccer.
As a leader, Cornett is hardly as inspirational as Shakespeare's Henry V. But he knows how to get things done—take, for example, his ability to collect a whopping 1,200 $5 donations from the public in a tough economy, when his opponents couldn't.
Cornett will bring a key human experience to the city's dealings with the police: In 2005, Portland police shot and killed Cornett's close friend, Raymond Gwerder, while Gwerder was on the phone to a hostage negotiator.
And of course, he doesn't talk like a stoned robot.
Metro is the most important branch of government you've never heard of. Metro councilors plan our region's growth and transportation, plus they run garbage collection and the zoo.
We wish there were some way we could combine all three candidates for Metro president and make the perfect Metrobot. Rex Burkholder has the experience, after nine years of serving on Metro Council. Bob Stacey, fresh from directing environmental advocacy group 1,000 Friends of Oregon, has the greenest policy plans. And Tom Hughes has cross-regional appeal—as Hillsboro's former mayor, he breaks out of Portland's idealistic bubble.
But Bob Stacey is the clear Mercury candidate. His history as a seasoned environmental activist will make him an exciting force as metro president.
Stacey really wins our endorsement for his stance against the current plan for the Columbia River Crossing. He has been a loud, critical voice of the pollution and sprawl-inducing $3 billion plan to expand the I-5 bridge to Vancouver. Outgoing Metro President David Bragdon has been an outspoken critic of the bridge, and we need another strong leader on this issue to replace him.
"Activism doesn't have to have a bandana to stand up for something," says the definitely suit-and-tie Stacey, who has fought for smarter land-use laws in the state—exactly the kind of work he'll get to direct at Metro.
Burkholder's claim to fame is that he helped found the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, but while he sees the big bridge as the best possible compromise, we see it as a colossal error. We want to see the Metro Council led by someone who sets a more ambitious bar.
Hughes is a smart and likeable guy with a solid background in Metro's complicated land use and planning issues. But his pro-growth attitude could too easily lead to sprawl and he's also gung-ho about the current bridge plan, calling the boondoggle "our generational obligation." For your generation, Tom, perhaps. But not ours.
Why do so many of Oregon's schools suck? A big part of the answer to this testy question has to do with how Oregon schools are funded. As Measure 68 advocate Scott Moore describes it, our current funding structure combines relying on the state's fluctuating income tax and burdening local school districts for the cost of some projects (such as repairing aging schools) for a "worst of both worlds approach."
On the state side, funding fluctuates based on how much the state makes in income tax. And because we have so many school districts, some only include, say, 1,000 taxpayers—not enough to fund much needed improvements to schools.
Right now, local school districts can't pass bonds to pay for needed maintenance on their schools. They can pass bonds to build new schools, but not repair their old ones. If, for example, a school has broken air conditioning, or a mold infestation problem, they would be able to pass bonds to cover that—if Measure 68 passes. The measure also allows for the state to provide matching funds up to half of a project's cost.
Measure 69 also broadens the definition of what community colleges and universities can pay for with the bonds that they can take out. Right now, they can build new buildings when they need to expand, but not repair or renovate old buildings. For Mercury readers, passing the measure means college tuition costs will stay down, and allowing for repairs and renovations is more environmentally friendly than new construction.
"From our perspective, this is about making sure that kids that are in schools have adequate facilities to learn in," says Moore.