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Need some last-minute help with your ballot? Here's our take on the 2020 general election.

In so many ways, this year has been dramatically different and so, too, are our endorsements. Faced with 17 contested candidate races and ballot measures, the Pamplin Media Group editorial board decided to forgo the traditional long endorsements sessions.

The decision was made in part because our reporters and editors are working limited hours due to the COVID-related drop in advertising revenue. But we also are aware that few voters will look to news organizations in an increasingly partisan world in how they cast their ballots.

In response, we focused our efforts on helping voters decide for themselves. We partnered with the City Club of Portland and moderated five candidate debates this month and we reached out to the six major-party state candidates and both sides of the 11 ballot measures. As a result, the Portland Tribune website now features six guest columns from candidates running for Oregon secretary of state, attorney general, and treasurer. There are also more than two dozen columns from advocates and opponents of state, regional and local ballot measures.

We offer some thoughts, observations, and a few recommendations for those who are curious about what we think.

State Candidates

State Treasurer/Attorney General

Two of the three contests for Oregon state offices are similar in that Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and state Treasurer Tobias Read, both Democrats, are running for reelection after serving without controversy. {obj:50121 that a steady hand, with a track record of fighting for racial justice, is what's needed as we head into 2021. Her opponent, Michael Cross, argues that Rosenblum should be held accountable for an uptick in violent crimes and the riots in Portland. Read faces a more formidable foe in his reelection bid. Republican Jeff Gudman, who lost a close race to Read four years ago, is running a smart, aggressive campaign. Gudman's central theme that Read has not shown enough leadership in combatting the economic woes linked to the global pandemic or dealing with Oregon's public pension system's unfunded liability. Read counters that the treasurer's main job is managing the state's investment portfolio and notes that under his watch, Oregon has done better than most states.

Secretary of State

The battle for Oregon Secretary of State is an open seat, following the death of Dennis Richardson, who died in office last year. Richardson, who had been one of the most conservative Republicans to serve in the state legislature, campaigned on a promise that he would leave his party label at the door. And, in the three years he served, he largely did.

Again, voters are asked to believe that a pair of lawmakers who've shown little party independence in the legislature will oversee elections and audits fairly. Republican state Sen. Kim Thatcher says she will be more aggressive in auditing state agencies and less beholden to the public employee unions, who are bankrolling her opponent's campaign. Democratic Sen. Shemia Fagan says that as a long-time and consistent supporter of vote-by-mail, she will protect Oregon's electoral process and launch an audit of the state Employment Department, which has bungled unemployment claims for those who lost work due to COVID-19.

Fagan has earned the endorsement of Wyden and Merkley SOS. Thatcher's endorsement includes Richardon's widow, Cathy Richardson.

Local Candidates

Portland Mayor

No Portland mayor has had to deal with the convergence of issues facing Ted Wheeler in 2020. He made his share of missteps, but not enough to warrant exchanging his battle-tested experience for someone who has never held elective office. We endorsed him on Oct. 7.

Portland City Council Position 4

We endorsed Mingus Mapps on Oct. 14, noting that he, more than incumbent Chloe Eudaly, has the skills, temperament and experience to help lead the city through what undoubtedly will be one of its most difficult periods.

Metro Council District 5

When we endorsed Mary Nolan in the May primary, we noted that Chris Smith stood out among the four other impressive candidates. He and Nolan are now in a runoff, meaning voters can't lose. Our vote stays with Nolan.

Multnomah County Circuit Court

We didn't pick Adrian Brown in our primary endorsement (our vote went to Ernie Warren), but she came in a close second. As we said in spring, Brown has demonstrated a willingness to take unpopular stands when she feels the law requires it. She stood out as one of the assistant U.S. attorneys working in Portland's civil rights division with the backing of civil rights activists and lawyers. Brown, who is in a runoff with Rima Ghandour (another impressive candidate), earns our endorsement this time.

Statewide Measures

Measure 107: Allows limits on campaign money

If you are looking for a way to support Oregon bipartisanship, this is your measure. Democrats and Republicans in Salem joined forces last year to refer this measure to the ballot. It would merely allow the legislature to set limits on campaign contributions should they get enough votes to do so. Supporters say doing so would make it easier for people without access to wealth or power to gain office and remain independent once they get there. Critics say it's an unneeded restriction on free speech that would do little to curb the influence of big-money on Oregon's political process. Given that this measure simply allows the legislature to consider such limits, we see it as a sensible step.

Vote YES.

Measure 108: Raises taxes on tobacco products

If you look on our website for the argument against a new tax on vaping products and an increased tax on cigarettes, you won't find it. That's because there is no organized opposition to Measure 108. The diverse coalition backing this proposal says the boost in taxes is needed to curb the dramatic rise in youth vaping and put Oregon's tax in line with our neighbors to the south and north. It's true that this tax will be hard on low-income residents, who make up a disproportionate share of smokers. Those concerns have been addressed by earmarking 90 percent of the money raised for a state system that provides health care to low-income Oregonians, with the remainder going to programs to help people stop smoking. There's a reason this measure has drawn little controversy: it's a sensible way to address a big problem.

Vote YES.

Measure 109: Authorizes psilocybin treatment

Despite the jokes and snide references to "magic mushrooms," there's growing evidence that the hallucinogenic properties of psilocybin benefit patients suffering from specific mental health maladies — particularly depression. This measure would give the state two years to develop regulations for licensing the therapeutic use of the drug. Proponents say it would be another example of Oregon blazing a policy trail that would benefit many people, including veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Critics say it's not a good use of the state's limited health care resources.

Measure 110: Reclassifies drug crimes; funds recovery centers

Measure 110 is the most controversial of the Nov. 3 ballot measures and the source of some of the most misleading arguments. Despite what some critics say, the measure will not force police, prosecutors and judges to treat heroin dealers the same as jaywalkers. The measure would indeed reclassify the offense of possession of small amounts of illegal drugs to misdemeanors. And, for some people, that's enough to earn a "no" vote. The more compelling argument against the measure is that sometimes those suffering from addiction M110 No to get into the treatment they need. Proponents, however, counter that the threat of jail, or even time behind bars, doesn't generate the kind of motivation that makes treatment stick and, instead, simply creates "a cycle that too often ends with prison or overdose."

Local Measures

Measure 26-211: County library bonds

This money measure asks Multnomah County voters to approve $387 million in bonds to fund the construction of a new flagship library in Gresham, spruce up seven existing branches and boost the internet speed across the system. Supporters of the measure say that most branches are way overdue for upgrades and that the problem is particularly acute for patrons on the east side of the county. We agree and think the price tag, an extra $10 a month for a typical homeowner, is worth it.

Vote Yes.

Measure 26-213 City parks levy

The global pandemic has highlighted the importance of shared public spaces and also the backlog of projects at Portland Parks & Recreation. Supporters of this levy argue that parks are the 'heart and soul' of a city and that decades of neglected maintenance issues have created a crisis that requires a big infusion of tax dollars. Their proposed solution: Adding about $13.50 per month to the property tax bill of a typical Portland homeowner. Critics of the proposal say the parks should have been charging higher fees for use of the facilities all along and are now trying to make up for that mistake by taxing people who don't use them.

Measure 26-214: County pre-school

If anyone doubted the importance of access to pre-school, COVID-19 was a good example of the chaos caused when it's not available. Supporters of this measure, however, say our current early childhood education model is plagued by problems of inequity and systemic racism and that an investment in pre-school will pay dividends for the local economy down the road. This proposal would remedy that with a 1.5% tax on high-income residents ($125,000 annual taxable income for individuals; $200,000 for joint filers.) Opponents say the prospect of free pre-school will draw low-come residents to the county while the tax on high-income earners will drive others out. Still others argue that this is a statewide problem that deserves a statewide solution, not a local one.

Measure 26-215 Portland school bonds

Campaigning for school building improvements during fall in which students are learning from home is certainly not ideal, but we know kids will eventually head back to their classrooms and this measure would generate $1.2 billion over eight years by renewing the existing $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value that homeowners pay now. That cash would help tick off some items on the list of needed projects, including seismic upgrades, access for students with disabilities and replacement of some school roofs. Critics correctly note that a 2017 bond measure was bungled. However, the board members and key administrators involved are now gone. Supporters say the bond renewal is essential to keep public education accessible and safe. We agree.

Vote Yes.

Measure 26-217 City police oversight

This measure, pushed to the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Portland City Council, would scrap the current much-maligned police oversight panel and replace it with a board empowered with tools such as subpoena power and the ability to be much more transparent in its investigation of Portland police. Supporters argue that past efforts to tinker with various oversight models have failed and this measure is needed to prompt the radical reform needed to protect people of color and restore trust with the Portland Police bureau. There's considerable grumbling from the police union, but no organized opposition.

Measure 26-218: Metro transportation tax

Our editorial board has often backed needed transportation initiatives, but on Oct. 16, we urged a 'no' vote on Metro’s $5.2 billion proposal. Proponents say the massive list of regional projects, including a light rail line to Tualatin, would provide needed well-paying jobs during the COVID-19 recession. However, we agree with critics who say this is not the time to add another burden on employers with a tax that is riddled with unanswered questions.

Measure 26-219 City water spending

The Portland Water Bureau, as it turns out, owns a lot of city property for its facilities. And, some of that property is currently being used as public gardens, mini-parks and picnic spots. City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees the water bureau, says councilors need more flexibility to spend ratepayer dollars to maintain and improve community access to those spaces. Opponents fear that this charter change would allow councilors to raise utility fees for projects unrelated to water service. Fritz says such a move would require a council vote.

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