This update provides an overview of the legislative candidates for a number of key races as we approach the May 15, 2018 primary election in Oregon.
But first, a voter registration reminder: If you are not currently registered to vote, have moved since the last election, or wish to create or change your party affiliation, you can do so on the Oregon Secretary of State website: http://sos.oregon.gov/voting/Pages/voteinor.aspx. In order to participate in the primary, you must register (and designate a party if you are currently unaffiliated[*]) by Tuesday, April 24.
The 2018 Legislative Elections
Every election cycle, half of the Oregon Senate (15 Senators) and the entire House (60 Representatives) are up for election. This year, 17 Senate seats will be on the ballot, with two of these races involving candidates running to complete the final two years in the terms of legislators who resigned during the last year. (See below for specifics on the Senate races).
Historically, during “mid-term” or “off-year” elections, the party not in control of the White House has picked up seats at the state level. Whether, or how much, the current ferment in the federal arena influences local legislative races remains to be determined. In 2010, in the off-year election during President Obama’s first term, Oregon Republicans picked up six state legislative seats won by Democrats when Obama was on the ballot in 2008. In 2012, when Obama ran for his second term, Democrats recaptured four of those seats and have held them ever since. The two seats that remained in Republican control that year were in Bend and Hood River. This election cycle, those two seats are being vacated by Republican legislators, and Democrats are seeking to take advantage of a possible mid-term election swing in their direction.
Oregon is at a crossroads in both the Senate and House during the current cycle. In both chambers, if Democrats pick up just one seat, they will hold the three-fifths “super-majorities” needed to pass tax increase measures. Nevertheless, just because Democrats may hold a super-majority in each chamber does not guarantee solidarity on a vote to raise taxes. Both chambers currently include Democrats who are not “automatic ayes” on tax increases. As the number of legislators in a party caucus grows, so does the diversity of opinions and views in that caucus, making solidarity more elusive. A newly elected legislator who has captured a seat from the opposing party can’t afford to ignore district voters who have previously voted for the opposing party. After last year’s costly and decisive defeat of Ballot Measure 97, which would have increased corporate taxes, Democratic legislative candidates in potential swing districts currently held by Republicans are unlikely to win with a zealous stance on tax increases.
Here are some of the key races in each of the legislative chambers. Districts are listed either because they involve “open seats” or hotly contested races. “Open seats” include candidates who have been appointed to a seat during the current term and will be facing voters for the first time as they seek to remain in office.
Senate District 1 includes Roseburg and stretches across to the Oregon coast, including Gold Beach, Coquille and Bandon. It was represented by Republican Jeff Kruse who resigned last month following a series of accusations involving inappropriate touching. This district is one of the two that includes candidates seeking to fill the remaining two years of a four-year term. Dallas Heard (R-Roseburg), who was appointed to fill the seat through the end of the year, is running for the seat in November. He may face a yet-to-be-determined Democrat. Republicans hold a significant voter registration edge in this district.
Senate District 3 includes Medford and Ashland and will be the center of attention during the 2018 election cycle. It is a split district, meaning the two House seats that comprise it are split between a Democrat and a Republican. The seat is currently held by Sen. Alan DeBoer, a Republican who won the seat in 2016 to complete the remaining two years of Alan Bates’ term. (Bates, a Democrat, died in 2016.) Earlier this year, DeBoer indicated that he would not seek re-election. Because the seat was previously held by a Democrat for a long period of time, it is considered a possible pick up for the Democrats. Two Republicans and three Democrats will be vying in the primary for a chance to be on the November ballot:
Curt Ankerberg is a CPA and has run unsuccessfully for Medford School Board and Jackson County Commission three times.
Jessica L. Gomez is a Founder and CEO of Rogue Valley Microdevices, serves as a legislative aide to DeBoer, and is a member of the OIT Board of Trustees.
Julian W. Bell is a physician with no prior government experience.
Athena W. Goldberg is a mental health provider.
Jeffrey S. Golden is a television producer and journalist, and has served as a Jackson County Commissioner (1987-1991), chief of staff to Oregon Senate President (1993), and policy aide to the Portland City Commission (1994-1997).
Kevin Stine is a Navy veteran and has served as a Medford City Councilor since 2015 and a Democratic Precinct Committee Person since 2014.
Senate District 7 encompasses northwest Eugene and Junction City, and is currently represented by Sen. James Manning (D) who was appointed to the seat prior to the 2017 session when Democrat Chris Edwards resigned to take a job with the University of Oregon. This year, facing voters for the first time for this seat, Manning has no primary or general election opponents.
Senate District 19 includes Lake Oswego, West Linn, and Tualatin. The seat was previously held by Democrat Sen. Richard Devlin who chaired the Joint Ways and Means Committee. After Governor Brown appointed Devlin to the Northwest Power & Conservation Council, the Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah County Commissioners appointed Rob Wagner to fill the seat for the final year of Devlin’s four-year term. Wagner will face Republican Dave Poulson, a civil engineer, in the November General Election.
Senate District 24 covers east Multnomah County, including Happy Valley. Democrat Sen. Rod Monroe, one of the longest serving members of the legislature, is being challenged in the primary by former Rep. Shemia Fagan, a civil rights attorney who served two terms in the House and retired after the 2015 session, and Kayse Jama, Executive Director of United Oregon, a Portland-based cultural and human rights organization. The winner of the primary does not face a Republican opponent in the general election.
Senate District 30 is the state’s largest district. It includes portions or the entirety of ten of Oregon’s 36 counties, covering territory that ranges from The Dalles down into the southeastern corner of the state. This district had been represented by Ted Ferrioli since 1997 until his resignation late last year after Governor Brown appointed him to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. The County Commissioners in Baker, Clackamas, Deschutes, Grant, Harney, Jefferson, Lake, Malheur, Marion, Wasco, and Wheeler Counties appointed Rep. Cliff Bentz to fill the vacancy. Bentz, an attorney who served in the House since 2009, will face Democrat Solea Kabakov in the general election in this Republican-dominated district.
House District 2 covers Douglas County and the I-5 corridor that winds south from Roseburg to Grants Pass. With Rep. Dallas Heard’s move to fill a vacancy in Senate (see above), District 2 is awaiting appointment of a replacement. Republican Douglas County Commissioner Gary Leif will face Democratic challenger Megan Salter in this heavily Republican district.
House District 6 covers much of Medford. Republican Rep. Sal Esquivel is retiring after serving in the House since 2005. Two Democrats – Michelle Atkinson and Rick Schreffler – are vying in the primary to face Republican Kim Wallan, an attorney, in the general election of this Republican-dominated district.
House District 9 includes Coos Bay and portions of the Oregon coast. Rep. Caddy McKeown faces a Democratic challenger — Mark Daily, a former City Councilor and local business owner — in the primary. The winner will go on to face Republican Teri Grier, a community college instructor, in the November general election. In 2016, McKeown defeated Grier by less than three points with just under 50% of the vote in a three candidate race.
House District 11 covers much of rural Lane and Linn Counties east of I-5. Democrat Rep. Phil Barnhart is retiring from the seat he has held since 2001. The May primary involves two Republicans and two Democrats vying for a position on the November ballot.
House District 15 covers most of Linn County including Albany, and comprises half of the split Senate District 8 currently held by Sen. Sara Gelser (D). Republican Rep. Andy Olson, who announced his retirement at the end of his current term, has held the seat since 2005. The district maintains a Republican edge in party registration. The primary is uncontested. Three candidates will be on the November ballot: Republican Shelly Boshart Davis, Vice President of international sales & marketing at BOSCC Trading in Albany; Democrat Jarred Taylor, a supply chain manager; and Independent Cynthia Hyatt, a Grocery Depot store associate.
House District 18, with a heavy Republican registration, includes Silverton and much of eastern Marion County. Republican Rep. Rick Lewis will face voters for the first time after his appointment to the seat early in the 2017 session after Rep. Vic Gilliam resigned for health reasons. Lewis is unopposed in the primary and will face the winner of the Democratic primary – either Barry Shapiro, a semi-retired graphic designer, or Doug Culver, an in-home care provider.
House District 23 covers much of Polk and Yamhill Counties, including Dallas, and meanders into the rural portions of Benton and Yamhill Counties, including Monroe. Republican Rep. Mike Nearman is in his second term and faces a primary challenge from fellow Republican Kris Morse Bledsoe in this heavily Republican district. Nearman captured the seat from Republican incumbent Jim Thompson in the 2014 primary, and went on to defeat Thompson again in the 2016 general election when Thompson ran as both a Democrat and an Independent. Democrat Danny Jaffer, a Navy veteran, is also running for the seat.
House District 32 covers most of the north coast, including Tillamook and Astoria. Rep. Deborah Boone, a Democrat, announced her retirement after serving in the House since 2005. Two Democrats are running to fill the vacancy: Tim Josi, a Tillamook County Commissioner who previously represented the district in the legislature, and Tiffiny Mitchell, a case management coordinator for the state Department of Human Services. The winner of the primary will face Republican candidate Vineeta Lower.
House District 39 covers much of Clackamas County, ranging from east of I-205 and north to Highway 26, including Canby. Republican Rep. Bill Kennemer, who has served as a County Commissioner, as a Senator, and since 2009 in the Oregon House, announced his retirement at the end of his current term. The vacancy has drawn a long list of Republicans who will vie against each other in the primary to then face a Democrat who is unopposed in the primary.
Christine Drazan has served as a staffer in the Speaker and House Majority offices when they were controlled by Republicans.
Ken Kraft is a veteran and served as a Multnomah County Deputy Sheriff.
John Lee is a sales consultant and trainer.
Seth A Rydmark is a mental health technician and has served as a Republican precinct committeeperson.
Elizabeth Graser-Lindsey holds a PhD in Agricultural Meteorology & Climatology from the University of Nebraska, and has served on the faculty at the University of Hawaii, a research scientist at USDA Agricultural Research Service, and as an elementary teacher.
House District 52 stretches from East Multnomah County to Hood River, including Mount Hood. Republican Rep. Mark Johnson held the seat since 2011 until last fall when he resigned to serve as CEO of the newly consolidated business organization, Oregon Business and Industry. (Last week the Board fired Johnson following reports of his use of racially charged language.) In November, the Hood River and Multnomah County Commissioners appointed Republican Jeff Helfrich, a retired Portland police officer, to fill the seat, and he is running as the Republican nominee. Two Democrats are vying for the opportunity to challenge Helfrich in the November general election: Aurora del Val, an English instructor at Portland Community College and Clackamas Community College, and Anna K Williams, an online instructor for Simmons College. This seat was captured by Democrats in the 2008 election, when Obama ran for his first term, but Republicans recaptured the seat during the off-year election in 2010 and have held it ever since.
House District 53 is the rural “donut” in Deschutes, Crook, Jefferson and Klamath counties that encircles the City of Bend (see District 54). Rep. Gene Whisnant, a Republican who has served the district since 2005, is retiring at the end of his term. Two Republicans and two Democrats are vying for the seat in this heavily Republican District:
Ben Schimmoller is a grass roots activist and has served as a Republican precinct committeeperson.
Jack Zika is a realtor and has served on the City of Redmond Planning Commission and Oregon Association of Realtors Board of Directors.
Eileen Kiely is a veteran and has worked in a variety of management positions in the trucking industry.
Bill Trumble holds a PhD in medical physiology from the University of Texas, has served on the faculty at the University of Idaho, and was Director of the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station. He was also Provost at SUNY at Canton.
House District 54 is the urban “donut hole” which consists primarily of the City of Bend. Rep. Knute Buehler has held this seat for two terms and is retiring to run in the Republican primary for Governor. This district is likely to attract a great deal of attention and financing as it could be one of the House Republican seats that switches to the Democrats. The seat was held for one term by Democrat Judy Stiegler following the 2008 election. Democrat candidate Nathan Boddie, a physician, is currently serving on the Bend City Council. The Republican candidate, Cheri Helt, has served on the Bend/LaPine School board since 2010. She is the owner of the local restaurant Zydeco.
House District 59, characterized by a large Republican registration edge, ranges from The Dalles, south to Madras, and east to the John Day fossil beds. Republican Rep. John Huffman resigned his seat last year to move to a political appointment with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as State Director for Rural Development. Rep. Daniel Bonham, owner of Maupin’s Stoves and Spas, was appointed to the seat and will be running against Democrat Darcy Long-Curtiss, a financial and investment advisor, in the November General Election.
House District 60 ranks among the nation’s largest state legislative districts and covers roughly one quarter of the state, covering Baker, Grant, Harney, Malheur, and parts of Lake Counties. Republican Cliff Bentz held this seat since 2009, and moved over to the Senate this year with the resignation of Ted Ferrioli. (See Senate District 30.) The County Commissioners from the five counties that make up the district appointed Republican Lynn Findley, who worked for the Bureau of Land Management and served as City Manager for the City of Vale, to fill the vacancy. Findley is running unopposed in both the primary and general elections.
If you have questions regarding any of the candidates or the content of this summary, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Director, Government Relations
[*] Oregon is a closed primary state, so you can only vote for Democratic or Republican candidates if you are registered in those respective parties. There is an “Independent Party” in Oregon and that party has opened its primary to non-party members. You may wish to check your registration. If you are an “unaffiliated” voter, that means you may not vote for Democrats or Republicans, but you can vote in the Independent Party which may include candidates who are members of the Republican or Democratic parties.