Primary elections during midterm, non-presidential years tend to be quiet affairs that attract little attention—but this year's races have shattered that perception entirely. Not only is it the first election cycle to feature candidates taking part in Voter-Owned Elections, but several races could be decided on May 16 without advancing to the November general election. The choices you make in the next two weeks will decide who will be taking office, and who will begin making the decisions that affect your lives. Have we mentioned how much we love—and we mean love—the idea of publicly funded campaigns? Here's why: For a microscopic fraction of the city's budget (about 30 cents per Portlander), we can remove the electoral influence of corporations and developers, encourage non-traditional candidates to fully participate in the democratic process, and lower the cost of campaigns across the board. Critics of the program have never found an argument against it that sticks—first they complained that it would cost too much, now they're complaining that not enough candidates qualified. At this point, you've hopefully been inundated with information about the candidates for every race. To help you sort through the barrage of promises and claims, the Mercury's Voter-Owned Election Board (see how much we love VOE?) is happy to provide a no-bullshit list of endorsements—these are the candidates we think will best represent you and help hold the tide against greedy corporate bastards. Happy voting!
City Commissioner, Position No. 2
VOTE ERIK STEN
Erik Sten is of a rare breed—he's an elected official who is as shrewdly political as he is idealistically active. Having spent most of his adult life in local government (a fact used as a barb by his critics, but one we're not buying), he's able to push ideas that will keep Portland a progressive and populist city while possessing an insider's knowledge of how to bring those goals to fruition.
Sure, a decade is a long time to serve in one position, and we're inclined to support new blood in the system. But considering that Sten's only formidable opponents are a small government libertarian and a corporate cheerleader, this decision was a no-brainer. Before we get to them, here are three concrete examples to back up our choice:
The first: Voter-Owned Elections (VOE). Despite the high-profile, blatant failure of Emilie Boyles to comply with the regulations of the entirely voluntary program, giving public campaign funds to qualified candidates is one of the most progressive—and pragmatic—policies to come out of city hall in, well, ever. Not only does it give nontraditional, grassroots candidates a realistic shot at elected office, it also removes the unhealthy electoral influence of large donors who frequently expect reciprocal back scratching once their candidate is elected. And it does this, thanks to Sten's authorship, for almost no money.
The second: Capturing a portion of urban renewal dollars to be set aside for affordable housing. Last week, Sten introduced a resolution that will ultimately—cross your fingers!—require 30 percent of all urban renewal funds to go to low-income housing. Yes, he caved—coughpussycough—to the mayor's request to soften up the language of the resolution, but he managed to get unanimous support, a milestone that will influence the city's policy negotiations this summer.
The third: The push for public ownership of PGE. Ultimately, it failed due to powers beyond the city's control, but the idea is classic Sten, and classic progressive Portland—that is, taking power away from corporations and putting it back in the hands of the public.
As for Sten's opponents...
The transparency of the Portland Business Alliance's puppeteering in Oregon Senator Ginny Burdick's campaign makes it impossible to take her candidacy seriously—after all, she wasn't even the PBA's first choice for an anti-Sten candidate. Beyond the corporate meddling, Burdick's biggest strike is her complete lack of any real ideas for the city; all we know is that she wants to end "pet projects" and hire more police officers. And given that she doesn't appear to have much passion for the city council position, or even knowledge of how the city works (hello, the police bureau is under the mayor's office), we see her candidacy as yet another insult lobbed at progressive Portland by the PBA. As we saw with Jim Francesconi and the VOE repeal, the PBA can throw all the money it has at an election and still get their collective ass handed to them.
On the other hand, Dave Lister has been, as they say, a breath of fresh air in the race. He's affable, humorous, and relatively—for a libertarian—open-minded. His split with Sten is ideological (small government, privatization of city services) not personal. And he's apparently learned in his few months on the campaign trail that city government is far more complicated than anti-government types want to believe—Lister doesn't particularly blame Sten for the water billing mess ("It happens in both the private sector and public sector all the time.") and has said he would have voted to give more money to the OHSU aerial tram if it meant preventing the city from being sued.
And then there's Emilie Boyles, who's still technically in the race. Even before the allegations of fraud and illegal expenditures, Boyles failed to convince us that she could run a viable campaign, much less a portfolio of bureaus. We do, though, feel the need to thank her for quickly exposing some of the (non-fatal) flaws in the VOE system that need to be addressed by the auditor's office.
Ultimately, Sten won this endorsement on his own—not due to the failings of his opponents. His optimism, idealism, and, yes, pragmatism are exactly what the city needs in order to balance a growing economy with sustainability—in every sense of the term.
City Commissioner, Position No. 3
VOTE AMANDA FRITZ
The Mercury's VOE Board adores Amanda Fritz. Not only is she the epitome of what Voter-Owned Elections is all about—Fritz was organized enough to properly qualify, with donations from every corner of the city. She's a fresh, neighborhood-based face in Portland politics—and she'd make a great city commissioner if the public funds propel her into office. She's got a passion for the city's inner workings, after a seven-year stint on the Planning Commission and 20 years of neighborhood activism. Combined with her outsider status, Fritz's insight into things like land use planning and neighborhoods' needs will shake up the city council. And Fritz's charm wins over every audience that she meets, from the drunken young voters at Sissyboy (where Fritz sported a smart zebra-striped outfit), to the wonky folks who attended the Mercury's candidate forum. Clearly, a Fritz term will draw newly engaged citizens into the political fold—a great side benefit of Voter-Owned Elections.
Our biggest worry about Fritz is that her commitment to neighborhoods, and her inclination to gather everyone's input means she's either (a) another Mayor Tom Potter, who will convene committee after committee to "vision" and process issues to death, or (b) potentially sympathetic to the Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) neighborhood set, whose protestations often stall positive changes in the city.
But Fritz has acknowledged that process can go on too long. Gathering input efficiently and at the outset of an issue, however, can stave off problems down the line, she says. And she's taken positions that put her squarely in opposition to the NIMBY mentality, like speaking out against Drug-Free Zones, and in favor of putting a sex-toys store near her own Southwest Portland neighborhood (the 24-hour superstore was an improvement over an empty lot, she argues). We're confident that Fritz will consider others' opinions, but will ultimately make her own reasoned decisions.
Our love for Fritz aside, this endorsement was a tough call. We've also come to like incumbent Dan Saltzman recently. He's impressively committed to the city's kids, and he recently made a bold move to enact regulations on the city's payday lenders. He's even loosened up a bit! But when it came time to decide, Fritz's stands on the issues that matter to us won us over; too often, we've found Saltzman's positions on key issues—like pulling Portland out of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, Drug-Free Zones, or holding PGE accountable—squarely in opposition to ours.
Other candidates in the race include Chris Iverson, who's also gathering signatures for an initiative that would make adult pot busts the lowest law enforcement priority in Portland (and we can't wait to endorse that measure!). Bartender Michael Casper has a bright political future if he can assemble the volunteer machine needed to qualify for public financing. Real estate agent Sharon Nasset's interests—interstate highways, education, the economy, and North Portland development—would better suit her to a run for the state legislature. Lucinda Tate and Watchman are barely campaigning. Vote for Fritz.
US Representative, District 1
VOTE DAVID WU
Kevin Mannix, as Oregon Republican Party chair last year, declared Wu the GOP's top target in Oregon in 2006. That remains to be seen—his Republican challenger, Oregon House Representative Derrick Kitts of Hillsboro, has been laying low, but is likely saving his ammo for the general election. Wu certainly doesn't have much of a primary challenger, and is barely campaigning.
While there's nothing outright wrong with Wu—he's a solid liberal who votes the right way most of the time, opposing the invasion of Iraq, the PATRIOT Act, and Central American Free Trade Act, and supporting things like a woman's right to choose and student loan funding—we do wish a dynamic, bold Democrat had taken him on in the primary. It's hard to get excited about Wu.
But his primary opponents are an unqualified bunch. Vote for Wu.
US Representative, District 3
VOTE EARL BLUMENAUER
The bow-tied Blumenauer has been at this government thing for a very, very long time. In fact, he just celebrated three decades of public service. Luckily for Portland, it's been three decades of progressive public service—including his no vote on the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Another reason to vote for Blumenauer: His only opponent, John Sweeney, seems like he might be a little nuts, although he is, according to the voter's pamphlet, "an advocate and defender of the American Way of Life!"
Chair of the Board of County Commissioners
VOTE TED WHEELER
To discuss the embarrassing interpersonal problems of the county board of commissioners would, at this point, be treading old waters. But to dismiss County Chair Diane Linn's participation in that embarrassment would be malpractice on our part.
We certainly understand what it's like to work with colleagues who go out of their way to humiliate you on a daily basis—but Linn has refused to accept any responsibility for the fact that county government has become unworkable, despite the fact that three of her four colleagues are actively trying to unseat her. As Linn herself says, county chair is the CEO of a $1 billion enterprise—and the buck has to stop somewhere.
But instead of working to fix the problem, Linn has defensively blamed anything and everything but herself. (She even got defensive when we asked her about being defensive! No wonder nobody can work with her.) She chalks up her unpopularity to several things: Her decision to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004, her apology a few weeks later for the "secretive" way in which she did it, and the media. It's an argument that we simply don't buy. First, we can't agree to the description of her marriage decision as "courageous" and a risk to her career (as Basic Rights Oregon has said), since, after all, Multnomah County voted 60-40 percent against the same-sex marriage ban. In this county, her actions were less "courageous" than "politically advantageous."
She may have a point with the argument that she lost the support of her colleagues—who supported her on the marriage decision—because of her apology, but it's extremely difficult to believe that one decision on one issue could have caused the past two years of turmoil. The more likely explanation, as evidenced by a biting diatribe against the media—during an endorsement interview with the media!—is that she lacks the tact and professionalism to be a successful leader.
That's all to say nothing of her primary opponent, Ted Wheeler. Wheeler, the wealthy heir to a timber fortune controlled by social and fiscal conservatives, who was a registered Republican until 2001, is—to say the least—not the kind of candidate the Mercury would endorse under any other circumstances. But Linn has given us very little choice.
To his credit, though, Wheeler is well-heeled in progressive ideology. He's a large donor to Cascade AIDS Project, his wife is a board member of the local chapter of Planned Parenthood, and he supports same-sex marriage rights and services to sexual minority youth, etc. He's successfully managed companies that have far higher cash rolls than the county, and he's worked with nonprofits like the ones the county contracts with for human services.
So, our endorsement goes to Ted Wheeler. We'll be watching to make sure he proves us right.
County Commissioner, District No. 2
VOTE LEW FREDERICK
Of all the choices the Mercury's VOE Board had to make, deciding which member of the Get-Along Gang to endorse was, hands down, the most difficult. Each of the four prospects to replace Serena Cruz-Walsh (Jeff Cogen, Xander Patterson, Gary Hansen, and Lew Frederick) are progressive, filled with great ideas, and diplomatic as hell—exactly what the county needs to drag itself out of the in-fighting it's currently mired in.
Hansen has decades of experience as a local elected official, and could quickly steady the county ship. Patterson has anti-war/Green Party cred, plus a plan for a progressive tax that could help solve the county's revenue problems—if he can sell it to voters. Cogen is young and enthusiastic, and has a laundry list of innovative ideas that he gets worked up over—his almost-completed plan to get municipal energy from wind power is one of our favorite proposals in either city or county government.
But it's Frederick's passion for the community he'd be representing that nudges him just ahead of all the others. When we asked the other three about specific issues facing North and Northeast Portland, they responded by saying they'd be representing the entire county. Only Frederick was able to tick off specific District 2 issues—like brownfields in impoverished minority neighborhoods, little-known workforce training programs, and racial profiling by police, all problems that he has faced personally. And no, it doesn't hurt that he participated in civil rights marches as a child with Martin Luther King Jr.
That said, what we'd really like to see is a runoff between Cogen and Frederick, with both candidates picking up ideas and perspectives from each other all the way to November. Vote for Frederick to make it happen.
VOTE LAVONNE GRIFFIN-VALADE
The Multnomah County auditor oversees a million dollar budget and a staff of nine, and audits how the county commissioners spend your tax dollars.
LaVonne Griffin-Valade has worked in the office overseeing audits for the past seven years; she's won the endorsement of current County Auditor Suzanne Flynn, along with several other local government auditors, like the Gresham city auditor.
Her challenger, Steve March—who vacated his state legislative seat to run for auditor—also worked as an auditor in the county office, from 1991 to 1996. But Griffin-Valade is better suited to the job, having worked on audits whose recommendations are still being implemented. Voting for her will ensure a smooth transition and more effective future audits.
WRITE IN PAUL VAN ORDEN
Frankly, we can't understand why Bernie Giusto is still in office. On the job, he spends more on overtime than any other recent sheriff, while whining to the county council that he needs millions of dollars to open more jail beds, lest the streets of Portland overflow with bad guys.
His ethics are, um, interesting, too: Giusto kept mum about Neil Goldschmidt's statutory rape of a teenage girl, info he knew years before it became public knowledge in 2004 (he was Goldschmidt's bodyguard in the '80s). He reportedly had an affair with Goldschmidt's wife. And, more recently, he's come under investigation by the Oregon attorney general's office for allegedly shoving local businessman Jim Jeddeloh into the Betty Ford Center last May—Jeddeloh's wife, a close friend of Giusto, says Jeddeloh abuses both her and alcohol—and using his deputies to do it.
The only person who filed to oppose Giusto is Don DuPay, a social service worker and marijuana activist. His law enforcement experience—as a Portland cop and homicide detective in the '60s and '70s—barely qualifies him for the top Multnomah County job.
This is why we're giving a tip o' the hat to Willamette Week for putting out a call for write-in candidates. Paul van Orden, Portland's Noise Control Officer, stepped up.
Van Orden says the dearth of qualified candidates means the sheriff's position should be an appointed one, not an elected one. He says he'd work to change that, and then step down as soon as a qualified candidate is hired.
Heck, we think he's qualified enough to keep the job. He's spent the last 10 years as Portland's noise control officer, where he's built bridges between noisy clubs and neighbors by being a fair, rational mediator who finds common sense solutions. He's also worked as an environmental law enforcement officer on the East Coast. And he's a biker, a skateboarder, a former punk rocker, and an all around good guy. Write him in!
VOTE SUZANNE FLYNN
Suzanne Flynn, currently the Multnomah County auditor, is the first to challenge Metro's incumbent auditor, Alexis Dow. Dow, originally elected in 1994, has served three terms. She's recently been dogged by questions surrounding outside work as a board member of Longview Fibre Co. (the Metro charter prohibits outside employment), and allegations that she takes advantage of her Metro expense account.
Metro, which sets land-use and transportation policies for the tri-county area, along with overseeing garbage, recycling, and spots like the Oregon Zoo and the convention center, all on a $310 million annual budget, would benefit from a new set of eyes. And Flynn, with a background in public-sector performance auditing—she'd like to take a look at Measure 37's impact on Metro, for example—is the right person for the job.
Vote YES on County Measure 26-78
This is a "housekeeping" measure that will renumber a few existing laws, so they're in the right place in the books. Vote Yes.
VOTE JIM HILL
Admittedly, we haven't dwelt much lately on the governor's race—largely because, for as long as we can remember (the past four years, obviously), the term "Oregon Governor" has been synonymous with "Ted Kulongoski," making it difficult for us to give a shit about the office.
Kulongoski lost our endorsement last year, when he utterly dropped the ball on SB1000, the state bill that would have established civil unions for gay and lesbian couples and outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation. He nudged four senators to introduce the bill, and then—apparently—took a vacation from the issue until the session ended.
Instead of using his bully pulpit and power as head of the state's Democratic party to push the bill through, he let it wither on the vine until a Republican senator, Ben Westlund, forced the issue. Now, Westlund is an independent candidate for governor, and he's just about the only candidate we can muster any excitement for.
But, since this is the Democratic primary, we've got to endorse someone, and that someone is Jim Hill. Vote for him. (Or Pete Sorenson. Whatever. We don't really care.)
VOTE FOR RON SAXTON
Now, the Mercury proudly admits to a liberal bias. And four out of five Portland voters are non-Republicans (hell, this is the only contested Republican primary in the Portland city limits). So we aren't being rude by only devoting one paragraph to the Republican race for governor. Nor are we being mean by not talking about the candidates one iota. We're being pragmatic. Because really, how many Republicans read the Mercury? And of the ones that secretly pick it up for the back pages, how many are going to take our advice on who to vote for? Didn't think so. (Okay, fine. Vote for Ron Saxton.)
Senate District 17
VOTE BRAD AVAKIAN
Senate District 24
VOTE JESSE CORNETT
House District 27
VOTE TOBIAS READ
House District 33
VOTE MITCH GREENLICK
House District 42
VOTE DIANE ROSENBAUM
House District 44
VOTE TINA KOTEK
House District 46
VOTE BEN CANNON
House District 51
VOTE RYAN A. OLDS
Hey state legislators! We're sick and tired of hearing about the deadlock in Salem, and the between-the-aisles bickering. How about next year you guys get a few things done? For starters, we'd like to see a sustainable school funding solution, a compromise on how to deal with Measure 37, and the passage of a bill that would enact civil unions and ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.
It's a tough agenda, but we think the following candidates can help get the job done: Brad Avakian, a civil rights attorney running for State Senate in District 17, has experience in the House that can help him be a more effective senator. In District 24, we're rooting for young progressive Jesse Cornett of the Bus Project crew, who's up against political old-timer Rod Monroe (Monroe seems to be under the impression he has inheritance rights to the seat, since his buddy Frank Shields suddenly retired).
In the House, the 27th District would be well served by Tobias Read, who's got experience in the House as a legislative assistant. His top priority is to establish a Rainy Day fund for schools. Mitch Greenlick, our choice in District 33, sponsored the HOPE for Oregon Families initiative, which would make healthcare for all Oregonians a constitutional right. In District 42, veteran Diane Rosenbaum should be sent back to Salem to continue her work on things like healthcare issues. Tina Kotek, running in the 44th, would be a great policy-wonk addition to Salem: She's done great work on issues related to children and families, like a bill that pays for meals for school children during summer break. (And it wouldn't hurt to have a real, live homo in the legislature!) In District 46, Ben Cannon's another young progressive—and a teacher—who's eager to tackle the school funding challenge. And finally, Ryan A. Olds, running in District 51, is a former Senate intern who hopes to take out Republican incumbent Linda Flores. He's got the smarts and the drive to unseat Flores.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
VOTE SUSAN CASTILLO
Oregon's schools are headed for trouble, both in Portland and around the state. The legislature holds the purse strings, and the politicos there can't seem to stop their partisan bickering long enough to make sure schools are adequately funded.
Enter Susan Castillo, the incumbent superintendent of public instruction and a former state senator. Despite working in such a tough environment for the past four years, Castillo has done her best to raise the issue of school funding, to shore up graduation standards, and to close the achievement gap. Indeed, her work has earned her a broad array of endorsements, including those from the Oregon Education Association—the state's largest teachers union—the Oregon School Board Association, and a pile of state legislators.
Her sole opponent, Deborah L. Andrews, is an education activist whose primary political experience in Oregon is testifying before the legislature. Castillo deserves a second term, so she can continue her upward momentum.
Judge of the Supreme Court, Position 6
VOTE VIRGINIA L. LINDER
Oregon Appeals Court Judge Virginia L. Linder is the right choice for a seat on the Oregon Supreme Court. In her role on the appeals court, Linder is already hearing the same cases that go before the higher court. She's got a reputation as a moderate who leans right on law and order issues, and left on social policy issues, and she's earned the Oregon Bar Association's highest rating.
Neither Jack Roberts, a former Republican candidate for governor, nor W. Eugene Hallman, an Eastern Oregon private practice attorney, have the right experience for the job. Bonus: Linder would become the only woman on the court's seven-member bench. Vote for her.
Judge of the Circuit Court, District 4, Position 31
VOTE CHERYL ALBRECHT
Endorsed by progressives like State Representative Chip Shields and City Commissioner Erik Sten, judge pro-tem Cheryl Albrecht has also won over Multnomah County's lawyers—she was their number one pick in an Oregon State Bar Association poll.
Albrecht has a reputation for being fair, smart, and compassionate. She'll be a great addition to Multnomah County's courtrooms.
For a printable cheat sheet, click here.