When our editorial board was scheduling the more than 30 endorsement interviews we have carried out this fall election season, we were not expecting that the most impressive pair of candidates would come in a race between a freshman legislator and a replacement challenger hastily nominated after primary voters' first choice withdrew.
But here we have it in House District 26, a sprawling district that runs from Hillsboro down to Wilsonville — via Farmington, Tigard, Bull Mountain, King City and Sherwood — where state Rep. Rich Vial, R-Scholls, faces a political newcomer in educator Courtney Neron of Wilsonville.
Vial turned in perhaps the most impressive first term by a state legislator we have seen in a while. Despite being a freshman in the minority caucus, Vial vaulted to a leadership role on a number of issues, signing on as a chief sponsor of successful legislation to raise Oregon's legal age for the purchase and use of tobacco to 21 and crossing party lines to cast a common-sense vote to close the so-called "boyfriend loophole," preventing convicted domestic abusers from owning firearms.
As to his own politics, while Vial said it is impractical for him to eschew party labels altogether, he cares so little for them that he plans to introduce a bill to move the Oregon Legislature toward the "Nebraska model." (The Cornhusker State has a unicameral legislature that is officially nonpartisan.) He has also touted his cross-nomination by the Independent Party of Oregon in this election.
Vial also serves on the Washington County Planning Commission, and both there and in Salem, his key issue is building what he calls a "Westside limited-access highway" (he doesn't care for the more colloquial "Westside Bypass" moniker). If it is ever built, the long-debated route would likely run right through House District 26, directly connecting the Wilsonville and Hillsboro areas. We are skeptical of his idea to create a new special district to manage this highway, but the concept is worth exploring and we give Vial credit for keeping it alive.
Neron, meanwhile, is a Pacific University alumna and language teacher who was recruited to run after Democratic nominee Ryan Spiker withdrew from the race for health reasons. Although she hasn't run for office before, Neron said she was getting more involved with advocating for statewide education policy before the opportunity arose to become a legislative candidate.
Under the circumstances, it would have been hard to fault local Democrats for simply putting a warm body on the ballot and making plans for 2020. Instead, they hit a home run in nominating Neron, who is as enthusiastic, focused and well-prepared as any candidate we've seen this election cycle. Although Vial holds an understandably sizable edge in fundraising, Neron has swiftly earned key endorsements and built up a credible campaign infrastructure.
Neron also displays impressive command of the issues for someone who has never before sought public office. Asked about Metro's affordable housing bond (which Vial, a vocal skeptic of the regional government, opposes), Neron immediately flashed a thumbs-up and explained why the bond's oversight structure gives her confidence the money will be well spent. She laid out her feelings about specific developments and growth proposals in House District 26, argued that a modest bump in Oregon's low corporate tax rate is needed to stabilize the "three-legged stool" of revenue for budget areas like education and healthcare, and provided a detailed critique of Vial's legislative record that touched on both positives and negatives. Vial himself offered unsolicited praise for her, describing her as someone he thinks he could work with.
Neither Neron nor Vial is perfect. We wish Neron had prior experience serving in or even just campaigning for office — and we especially wish she had been selected by Democratic voters instead of by precinct leaders. We do find Vial's big ideas to occasionally drift into the realm of "pie-in-the-sky" self-indulgence, and we weren't impressed when he punted on Ballot Measure 105, which would repeal language in the state constitution preventing local and state law enforcement resources from being used to enforce federal immigration law.
On the whole, though, both of these candidates impressed us because we feel that Salem could use 88 more people like them in the Legislature. Though they disagree on some issues, neither comes off as highly partisan, and both strike us as thoughtful, intelligent and well-informed.
As we did in 2016, we choose to endorse Vial based on his breadth of experience, especially coming off such a strong freshman term. We hope he will continue to work with lawmakers of all stripes to find common ground and move House District 26, the region and the state forward, and that he won't spend too much time getting hung up on unrealistic ideas. We believe he can.
As for Neron, it's a shame voters can't send both her and Vial to Salem this time around. We certainly hope to see her again even if she doesn't win this race. She would make an excellent candidate for Wilsonville City Council, West Linn-Wilsonville School Board or Clackamas County commissioner, or she could come back in 2020 or 2022 and run for Legislature again with the benefit of more experience and time to prepare.
— Hillsboro Tribune
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