2018: Washington County completes a political transformation
Editor's note: This story is part of the The Times' special series, "Decade in Review." This series features three stories that helped to define each year of the 2010s. These can retell single stories that captivated readers of the time, a saga that played out across many articles, and even stories that were crowded to the margins by other news at the time but have made a lasting impact on our region.
In many ways, the conservative 3-2 majority on the Washington County Board of Commissioners had been on borrowed time for years.
Once a Republican Party stronghold, Washington County became more electorally competitive as the high-tech industry transformed the local economy in the late 20th century. By the mid- to late 2010s, it had become a solid county for the Democratic Party, growing to politically resemble neighboring Multnomah County.
Yet for years, more conservative politicians had outnumbered liberals on the county commission. When former Democratic legislator Tom Brian, considered a moderate, wrapped up his tenure as county chair in 2010, he was succeeded by a conservative, western Washington County Commissioner Andy Duyck. With Commissioners Bob Terry and Roy Rogers, Duyck had a majority on the officially nonpartisan county commission, frequently butting heads with the board's two liberals, Commissioners Greg Malinowski and Dick Schouten.
That was until 2018. Duyck announced he was done after two four-year terms as county chair. Like Duyck did before him, Terry believed he could step into the chair role after serving from mostly rural western Washington County, so he forewent re-election in District 4 to pursue the countywide position.
Meanwhile, in District 2 in northern Washington County, Malinowski drew a challenge from the business community in the form of Pam Treece, who was backed by Duyck. In the May election, Treece trounced Malinowski, who became the first incumbent to lose re-election to the Washington County Board of Commissioners in more than 30 years. Although a registered Democrat, Treece was viewed as more moderate and business-friendly than Malinowski.
Former Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey, a registered Republican, defeated neighborhood activist Kimberly Culbertson to retain conservative representation at the county level for District 4.
The May election set up a head-to-head matchup in November between Terry and Kathryn Harrington of Beaverton, who was term-limited on the Metro Council.
There was little love lost between the two. Terry described Harrington to The Oregonian/OregonLive.com as "cold and rude," and he ran a heavily negative campaign, attacking Harrington in a series of direct-mail pieces — including one flier in late October that featured Harrington's face next to a darkened photograph, which appeared to have been taken from The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, of a swastika sign being held aloft during a street protest in Portland. Several of Harrington's allies, including Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway and Metro Councilor-elect Juan Carlos González, called on Terry to apologize. So did then-state Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, who had endorsed Terry.
By that point in the race, it was too late for the mailer to have much of an impact — and on balance, it wasn't clear anything short of a major scandal would have been enough to swing the election to Terry at any point. He was the second-highest vote-getter in the May primary out of a field of four candidates, but he still finished well behind Harrington, and the other two candidates in the race, like Harrington, identified politically as Democrats.
Terry, a registered Republican, ran as an unapologetic conservative, touting Washington County's direction over the previous eight years. Harrington ran on a platform arguing that the county should do more to cooperate with regional partners, including neighboring counties and Metro, and should have a stronger focus on equity and affordability.
Washington County had long since swung to the Democrats at the state and federal level. In 2016, Donald Trump collected less than a third of the county's vote, with Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton winning nearly 60%. In 2018, Gov. Kate Brown topped Republican nominee Knute Buehler in Washington County by about 25 percentage points.
Terry fared better in Washington County than Trump or Buehler, but not by much. Harrington beat him by a 17-point spread, as Terry collected just over 41% of the vote.
Harrington's victory places her at the head of a reshaped county commission, which went from five men to three men and two women, three conservatives and two liberals to three liberals and two conservatives, and three urban commissioners and two rural commissioners to five urban commissioners.
After moving ahead on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in 2019, the county commission is poised in the 2020s to take Washington County in a new direction — for better or for worse — as it continues to grow and urbanize.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.