Sometimes for the good. Sometimes not.
With that in mind, and in regard to the governor's race, the Pamplin Media Group recommends Democratic Party voters go with their most battle-tested candidate, former Speaker of the House Tina Kotek. On the Republican side, the negative experience of one candidate has us leaning toward oncologist Dr. Bud Pierce. But in both cases, it's a close call.
The primaries are important for the two parties, but this year is an especially tricky one for the party faithful who will choose their respective nominees. The Republican and Democratic candidates who emerge from the primary will be greeted with the additional challenge of facing a well-funded and well-respected independent, in the form of former Democratic state Sen. Betsy Johnson.
The primary election deadline for ballots to be postmarked is Tuesday, May 17.
Republicans: Bud Pierce
This endorsement sounds contrarian, because on paper, Pierce has some of the least actual government experience of anyone in either party running for the state's top job. He challenged Kate Brown in 2016 and lost. He's never held elected office, but he did lead the Oregon Medical Association, and he also headed up a successful effort, during Gov. John Kitzhaber's administration, to craft a malpractice reform bill that easily passed in the 2013 Legislature.
State Rep. Christine Drazan, by contrast, has far more legislative experience as a former minority leader in the House. She got high marks for keeping her caucus together in the 2021 session, and also drew applause for a special December session, in which the Democratic and Republican leaders came together with the governor's office, plotted wins for both sides, then gaveled in a fast and effective, one-day session that worked for both parties.
But she also claims leadership in the 2020 walkout by Republicans that blew the entire session out of the water over the issue of carbon legislation. This was in an even-numbered year, in which the legislative session must end at 35 days. The Republican walkout that year torpedoed the entire session.
Among the hundreds of bills that died — a measly total of three were passed into law that year — many were Republican priorities. Somewhere along the line, Republican leaders decided: Better to do nothing whatsoever than to get through any of our other priorities.
Salem is not Washington, D.C. The majority of bills that get out of the Oregon Legislature do so with bipartisan support. Drazan was gone for the 2022 short session, replaced by Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson of Prineville. And what did the GOP get in 2022? Among other things: $150 million to create summer learning programs; extra money to school districts that have lost students because of wildfires; $100 million for 60-plus projects in rural districts, including improved county fairgrounds across the eastern half of the state.
That's what happens when you don't lead a walk-out in a short session.
Drazan also has tacked hard to the right in this primary — which usually happens — but in ways that seem more pandering than prudent. Speaking at a KOIN 6/Pamplin Media Group candidates forum, and when asked if President Joe Biden won legitimately in 2020, Drazan enthusiastically replied, "Yes," adding, "It's important that Oregonians have faith in their elections."
Then, on her website, she writes that, if governor, she would direct the attorney general to investigate allegations of voter fraud and to prosecute cases; enhance whistleblower protections for those who report fraud; increase penalties for those found guilty of defrauding our elections; and establish a permanent task force on election integrity. She wants to have it both ways in a state that has been comfortable with voting by mail for decades.
A recent poll puts former state Rep. Bob Tiernan in second place, a showing helped by the $500,000 he's loaned his campaign. Tiernan, who was a polarizing force during his brief tenure in Salem, has been out of office for 25 years and has failed to make a convincing case for a return to public life.
Pierce is the other frontrunner and the best option for GOP voters. The Salem oncologist is decent, smart and pragmatic, if inexperienced in elected office. We believe his moderation will play well with general election voters. If Republican voters also are pragmatic, they will make him their nominee for November.
On a similar note: It's a shame that candidate Jessica Gomez, a southern Oregon high-tech entrepreneur, is polling in the 2% area, because in a Pamplin Media Group GOP forum, her answers were sharp, clearly thought out, and well-reasoned. Nick Hess, another first-time candidate also shows promise. The Portland-area telecom/security expert gets his inspiration from moderate Republicans like Tom McCall and Hark Hatfield. If the future of the Oregon GOP is in the hands of Gomez and Hess, then Republicans should cheer. Both are young, smart and energetic. We look forward to both of them staying involved in party politics.
By the narrowest of margins, we endorse Bud Pierce.
Democrats: Tina Kotek
On the Democratic side, the frontrunners are former Speaker Tina Kotek and Treasurer Tobias Read. Again: Experience matters. Both have served as legislators. Kotek also has been an activist for children and Read is now in statewide office as treasurer.
We do not discount the rich endorsements Read has received from former Govs. Barbara Roberts and John Kitzhaber. His supporters are admirably diverse, but Kotek's endorsements are robust as well.
Here's the difference: Kotek set the record for the longest-serving House speaker in Oregon history at nine years. And she's ushered through major pieces of legislation, from pension reform, to paid family leave, to the Student Success Act.
To get the Student Success Act approved, Democrats had to jettison bills on safe storage of handguns and on closing the loopholes for childhood immunizations. Yet dropping those bills got enough Republicans on board for a wholesale increase in public school funding.
Compromise carried the day, and that's to Kotek's credit. Despite her reputation, she's pragmatic at her core. Her approach to the job reminds us of another forceful House Speaker from Portland named Vera Katz, who went on to have a successful run as Portland Mayor.
Read's accomplishments in the Legislature are tougher to pin down, other than this: He's an exceedingly likeable guy and has been a prudent treasurer. He's also a quiet introvert.
Several others with little or no political experience stepped up, too, but they lack the necessary background to be CEO for Oregon. We encourage smart, high-energy candidates like George Carrillo and Patrick Starnes to shoot for, say, the Legislature first. Then swing for the bleachers.
For Democrats looking for the best opportunity in November's competitive three-way race for governor, we recommend Tina Kotek.
In their own words
Nearly three dozen candidates for governor are vying for their parties' nomination in the May 17th primaries. We've weighed in with our opinion on who's best qualified, but you can judge for yourself. A collaborative of Oregon journalists wrote 15 questions to help you get to know these folks before you cast your ballot. You can find the responses here. Click on each candidate's "card" to see how they responded to our questions on housing, crime, education, economy and environmental issues.
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