Candidates line up as Oregon's election season heats up
With the deadline for filing for the May primary passing Tuesday, March 10, the picture of how Oregon's 2020 election season will play out in statewide and legislative races became clearer.
In the Oregon House, several key races will settle whether Democrats maintain or extend their majority. In the Senate, half of seats are up for election where Democrats also hold a strong majority.
With a contentious end to the past two legislative sessions over a bill to reduce carbon emissions, and with longtime political players vying for secretary of state, 2020 is expected to be an exciting year for those tuned into Oregon's politics.
Secretary of state
On the day of the filing deadline, Cameron Smith, one of four Democrats seeking the office, exited the race. That leaves Jamie McLeod Skinner, former congressional candidate and Terrebonne lawyer; 13-year political veteran Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton; and Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Portland, all vying to replace Bev Clarno, a Republican appointed to the job who is not seeking election.
Sen. Kim Thatcher, a Keizer Republican, who has served in both chambers of the Legislature since 2005, will face off in the May primary against Republican Dave Stauffer, who grabbed headlines in 2016 when he ran for governor as a Democrat with an idea to solve traffic problems across the Interstate 5 bridge spanning the Columbia River by building water slides.
Thatcher, who, along with Republican Senate colleagues, took part in the third walkout in February, said she is aiming to use the office of secretary of state's Corporation Division to encourage business development and to reaffirm Oregon as a business-friendly state. She's also touts herself as a proponent of government accountability and transparency.
Key races in the House
Democrats will work to maintain and potentially grow their supermajority in the House, especially after House Republicans joined their Senate counterparts in a walkout the final two weeks of the legislative session, halting any semblance of progress. Only three bills passed in the session, leaving more than 200 others to languish.
"For the first time in recent memory, and dating back before 2000, not a single House Republican in Oregon is going unchallenged in 2020," said Barbara Smith Warner, leader of the House Democrats. "It's no coincidence that this historic filing day comes in the wake of House Republicans walking off the job and taking a taxpayer-funded vacation, effectively ending the 2020 session and leaving hundreds of critical bills to die without a vote."
Seats Oregonians should keep an eye on include House District 54, which covers parts of Bend. Incumbent Republican Rep. Cheri Helt is facing a tough race. Helt was one of two Republicans to break from their caucus — the other was fellow Bend Republican Sen. Tim Knopp — and remained in the Capitol as the rest walked out in a boycott.
"It's no coincidence that this historic filing day comes in the wake of House Republicans walking off the job and taking a taxpayer-funded vacation, effectively ending the 2020 session and leaving hundreds of critical bills to die without a vote."— Rep. Barbara Smith Warner
Democrats are backing Jason Kropf, a Deschutes County deputy district attorney, as their candidate in a district that boasts a 12-point advantage in Democratic voter registration and which was won handily by Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Elsewhere in the state, Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell, D-Astoria, decided against seeking reelection in House District 32, which covers much of Clatsop county and parts of Tillamook, Columbia and Washington counties. Mitchell beat a recall effort against her at the end of 2019, but she's come under pressure from Oregon's unions for votes on retirement reform. According to her party, Mitchell's exit is for personal reasons rather than political, with her husband taking a new job out of state.
The seat has been held by Democrats for nearly two decades, and two Democratic candidates have filed to run: Warrenton resident Debbie Booth-Schmidt, a small-business owner and trial assistant for Clatsop County, and George Kiepke, a retired maintenance supervisor from Astoria.
Two Republicans also have filed for the race: Vineeta Lower, Mitchell's 2018 opponent and a teacher from Seaside, and Tillamook Mayor Suzanne Weber.
In the Portland metro area, two Democratic seats — House District 37, held by Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-West Linn, and House District 26, held by Rep. Courtney Neron, D-Wilsonville — will be interesting to watch.
Republicans Larry McDonald, Peggy Stevens, Derrick Kitts and Dan Laschober will face off in the May 19 primary for the opportunity run against Neron, who stunned political pundits in 2018 by unseating Republican House member Richard Vial.
"We look forward to taking back seats across the state of Oregon where Gov. Brown and House Democrats have hitched their wagon to a very unpopular cap and trade bill," said Jihun Han, political director for Evergreen Oregon, the House Republicans campaign arm. "We plan on carrying the energy we have seen from all corners of the state to November."
Prusak in 2018 beat four-term legislator Julie Parrish. Two Republicans have filed to take her on in November: West Linn residents Ron Garcia, a real estate agent, and Kelly Sloop, a pharmacist.
On the coast, Rep. Caddy McKeown announced last fall she would be retiring at the end of her term. That leaves the door open for Republicans to sneak in a much-needed win in a district that's usually a Democratic stronghold but has been turning increasingly purple.
State voter registration data shows Democrats hold the slimmest of advantages in House District 9 with slightly more than 13,000 registered members in both parties and unaffiliated voters making up the bulk of the district.
Democratic candidates Cal Mukumoto, a Coos Bay business consultant, and Mark Daily, a Coos Bay small-business owner, have filed for the chance to face off against one of two Republican candidates in November. They include Keith Tymchuk, a teacher and former mayor of Reedsport, and Boomer Wright, a retired Reedsport educator and general manager of the Sea Lion Caves in Florence.
Key races in the Senate
The Senate will be a bit less exciting to watch with only half of the 30 seats up for reelection or open, but enthralling all the same as Senate Democrats try to maintain and extend their majority following an explosive legislative session where only three bills were passed.
Coos Bay Democrat Sen. Arnie Roblan is retiring. The race will be highly contested with Democrats holding a 4,000-vote advantage over Republicans in Senate District 5.
Coos County Commissioner Melissa Cribbins has filed for the May primary as a Democrat and likely will face Republican primary candidate Richard Anderson, a Lincoln City financial analyst.
In Bend, retired Daimler executive Eileen Kiely of Sunriver has filed for the Democratic primary and likely will face Knopp for Senate District 27 in November.
Another key figure in the Republican walkout, Sen. Denyc Boles, is up for election after being tapped to fill the seat following the death last year of longtime Republican Sen. Jackie Winters. Boles will face one of two Democrats: Deb Patterson, a faith-based health care executive from Salem, or Kenji Sugahara, a pilot from Polk County.
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