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Ballotpedia's 2012 General Election Preview Articles: Oregon State Executive Officials

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November 2, 2012

By Maresa Strano

Portal:State Executive Officials

SALEM, Oregon: Four state executive positions are up for election this year in the state of Oregon. Only three incumbents ran in the primary, but four incumbents will appear on the general election ballot. The twist is owing to the spring appointment of current attorney general candidate Ellen Rosenblum as interim attorney general. Recent ex-attorney general John Kroger gave ample notice that he would not run for re-election in 2012, but less so when a new job opportunity compelled him to leave office several months before voters had a chance to officially select his successor. Since Rosenblum had recently won the Democratic primary and was the presumptive general election winner at the time of Kroger's resignation, Gov. John Kitzhaber tapped her to fill the role until she or one of her opponents could be formally elected. From challenger to incumbent, and from open to vacant, the parallel transformations of Rosenblum and the attorney general seat were not the only unusual events to occur this election season in Oregon.

The Republican Party decided to open its primaries for three races this year in the hope that a gesture of inclusiveness would generate some fresh interest in the party and its candidates- and that any shake up would improve the GOP's stock in this election stratum: A Republican has not held any state executive office in nearly a decade.[1], and no Republican has called the governor's mansion home in over 30 years.[2] The "freedom primary," as the Republican's dubbed it, seemed like a waste of paper with all three races going uncontested and only one name, that of secretary of state challenger Knute Buehler, to print on the ballot between them.[3] Recognizing this disadvantage, the party mounted full throttle write-in campaigns for attorney general and state treasurer, both of which were successful. A Republican is now in the running for each of the four positions in the general election, including the technically nonpartisan office of Oregon Commissioner of Labor and Industries, the election date of which was recently changed, unbeknownst to either of the race's candidates, from May to November. The confusion caused commissioner candidate Bruce Starr (R) to sue secretary of state Kate Brown for a return to the original date. He also accused her of withholding the information as a political maneuver to help re-elect incumbent Brad Avakian. Avakian is a Democrat, like Brown, but like Starr, had had no clue about the date change.[4] Brown denied any foul play and a judge ruled for the election to proceed in November.[5]

The primaries took place on May 15th, and voters will make their choice for the following positions on November 6:

Oregon is an elections by mail state, however a voter can still vote on Election Day at their local municipal clerks office 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM Pacific Time.[6] Oregon is split between the Mountain and Pacific time zones.

 Candidates for attorney general 

See also: Oregon attorney general election, 2012
Democratic Party Ellen Rosenblum (D)
Republican Party James Buchal (R)
Progressive Party Chris Henry (Progressive Party)
Libertarian Party Constitution Party James Leuenberger (Libertarian, Constitution Party)

Last October, John Kroger (D) announced that he would not seek a second term as attorney general due to "a significant but non-life-threatening medical condition."[7] Then, shortly before this year's primary election, Kroger revealed that, his health on the upswing,[8] he was resigning in July, a full 6 months before his successor was scheduled to take office, to become the President of Reed College.

Governor John Kitzhaber (D) decided to appoint former Circuit Court Judge and Assistant United States Attorney Ellen Rosenblum interim attorney general until the formal conclusion of the 2012 election season. Rosenblum’s swearing in - referred to as “an historic moment" by Gov. Kitzhaber - made her the first woman to hold the position in Beaver state history.[9] Just over a month prior to her appointment, on May 15th, Rosenblum had won the Democratic primary nomination for attorney general, defeating early front runner Dwight Holton with the help of overwhelming support from pro-marijuana groups (having expressed her laissez-faire attitude about marijuana law enforcement) and women's fundraising group EMILY'S list. Although Rosenblum has already stepped into the role of attorney general, she will still need to overtake three challengers in the general election to cement her position.[10] They are Republican James Buchal, and two third party challengers Chris Henry (Progressive) and James Leuenberger (Libertarian).[11]

Because no Republican candidate filed for the primary election, it looked like the winner of the Democratic primary would be the next attorney general. But the Republican Party pulled off a successful write-in campaign for Portland attorney James Buchal in the primary, earning him a place on the ballot. Buchal wants to bring more accountability to state government, and believes that voters "are tired of living in a state where there has been one-party rule for so long."[2]

Rosenblum is mindful that serving out Kroger's unexpired term does not guarantee a subsequent full term of her own. "People are going to be watching me carefully, and closely, and they should be," she said in an interview about her performance leading up to November's general election.[9]

 Candidates for Secretary of State 

See also: Oregon secretary of state election, 2012
Democratic Party Working Families Party Kate Brown incumbent (Democratic, Working Families)
Republican Party Independent Knute Buehler (Republican, Independent)
Green Party Seth Woolley (Pacific Green Party)
Progressive Party Robert Wolfe (Progressive Party)

Incumbent secretary Kate Brown (D) is seeking re-election this year. She was first elected in 2008 and has since distinguished herself by facilitating campaign finance legislation to promote greater transparency, updating the voting process to include the use of iPad technology for disabled voters, and for her strict auditing practices. According to Brown, thanks to her office's auditing work, "in 2010 alone every dollar we spent on performance auditing resulted in 64 dollars in savings and efficiencies."[12] Brown garnered over 90% of the vote against sole challenger, perennial candidate Paul Damian Wells, in the primary election on May 15th.[13]

Brown will face three challengers in the general election: Knute Buehler (Republican), Seth Woolley (Pacific Green Party) and Robert Wolfe (Progressive).[14]

Buehler was the only GOP candidate to file for a (partisan) state executive official race this year.[15] A Bend-based orthopedic surgeon and former Rhodes scholar, this is Buehler's first bid for state office. His campaign centerpiece is a three-pronged plan to foster small business growth in Oregon. His plan essentially calls for a friendlier business culture, achieved through a more active/resourceful Corporations Division, and through simplification and reduction of regulations.[16] Buehler accused the secretary of state's office of being "a little sleepy the last 12 years," and no longer a leader in electoral reform.[17]

According to race ratings published in Governing in September, the Democratic Party's almost 20 year run in the office has a chance of ending this election. They rated the secretary of state race as a toss-up, due to Buehler's fundraising prowess (he has both raised and spent twice as much as Brown) and his cross-over appeal. The Independent Party voted 55-45% to endorse Buehler over Brown in July, and his willingness to step outside party lines (the GOP candidate donated to Democrat John Kitzhaber's gubernatorial campaign two years ago) makes him an intriguing candidate.[18] Under Oregon’s fusion-voting law, the GOP nominee for secretary of state is also permitted to list the Independent party's cross-nomination on the general election ballot.[19] The Independent Party's support could be crucial to Buehler's chances of scoring an upset victory in November. There are roughly 76,000 registered Independent voters in Oregon--the highest number for a third party--and over 420,000 unaffiliated voters, many of whom choose not to be registered with a party as a form of protest against the restriction of freedoms imposed by traditional power structures and will likely be more sympathetic to a candidate with "independent," next to his name. Correspondingly, a large share of unaffiliated voters are reportedly unaware of the distinction between a candidate who is running "independently" of a party and a candidate running in affiliation with the Independent Party.[20]

 Candidates for Treasurer 
See also: Oregon down ballot state executive elections, 2012
Democratic Party Working Families Party Ted Wheeler incumbent (Democratic, Working Families)
Republican Party Tom Cox (R)
Progressive Party Cameron Whitten (Progressive Party)
Libertarian Party John Mahler (Libertarian)
Constitution Party Michael Paul Marsh (Constitution Party)

Republicans failed to field a candidate for state Treasurer this year in the primary, all but assuring re-election for Democratic incumbent Ted Wheeler. Wheeler was first appointed to the position on March 11, 2010 to fill the unexpired term of former treasurer Ben Westlund, and was elected to a two-year partial term on November 2, 2010.[21]

But Wheeler was soon joined on the ballot by a quartet of challengers: Tom Cox, who won the Republican primary nomination as a write-in candidate, Cameron Whitten (Progressive Party), John Mahler (Libertarian), and Michael Paul Marsh (Constitution Party).[22]

 Candidates for Commissioner of Labor and Industries 

See also: Oregon down ballot state executive elections, 2012

Brad Avakian (D)*
Bruce Starr (R)*

*The race for Commissioner of Labor & Industries is technically nonpartisan. Although both candidates have partisan affiliations, they will run against one another in the November 6th general election.

Incumbent Oregon Commissioner of Labor Brad Avakian is seeking re-election in 2012. He is facing a challenge from State Senator Bruce Starr. While the office is officially nonpartisan, Avakian is a Democrat and Starr is a Republican.

Avakian was first appointed to the office by Governor Ted Kulongoski on April 8, 2008, following the resignation of Dan Gardner. He was elected to a full term in office on November 4, 2008.

Since it is a nonpartisan position, at the beginning of the campaign season the candidates for Oregon Commissioner of Labor and Industries assumed the election would take place on May 15, 2012, during the state's primary election. Election officials, however, said a 2009 law passed by the legislature requires the election to take place in November. Commissioner Avakian stated, "We thought the election was in May. My opponent thought the election was in May. Everybody thought the election was in May. It seems clear now that's not the case."[23] Adding to the confusion, the election is for a two year term, but only for this election. Andrea Cantu-Schomus, spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office, explained this move was intended to set up a standard where each election includes some statewide offices.[23]

The misunderstanding incensed Starr enough that he sued secretary of state Kate Brown for neglecting to inform either candidate of the date change, and sought a temporary restraining order that would have forced her to put the labor commission race on the May 15 ballot. Circuit Court Judge Steven Price rejected the move, saying Starr couldn't show he would be likely to win on the legal merits of the case.[24] Starr stirred the pot further by accusing Brown of conspiracy and party favoritism; Starr's opponent, incumbent Commissioner Brad Avakian, is a Democrat, like Brown.[25]

Tuesday, the race for labor commissioner will get its overcooked moment when Oregon voters choose between Starr and Avakian, once and for all. Or for the next two years, at least.

See also



Ballotpedia News
  1., "Oregon GOP to open primary to unaffiliated voters," February 2012 (dead link)
  2. 2.0 2.1 'Yamhill Valley News-Register "State Republicans smart to open primary election," February 11, 2012
  3. Oregon Secretary of State-Elections Division, "Candidate Filings," March 6, 2012
  4. The Desert News, "Republican sues over labor commissioner election," March 20, 2012
  5. Secretary of State Kate Brown, "Judge rules in favor of Secretary of State Kate Brown," March 22, 2012
  6. Oregon Votes, "2012 Elections Calendar"
  7., "Oregon Attorney General John Kroger shocks employees with announcement that he won't seek re-election," October 18, 2011
  8. OPB News, "Attorney General to lead Reed College," April 26, 2012
  9. 9.0 9.1 ‘’, “Kitzhaber taps Rosenblum to take over for AG Kroger,” June 6, 2012
  10. ‘’Oregon Live, “Oregon Republicans now have candidates for attorney general, treasurer, courtesy of write-in votes,” June 6, 2012
  11. ‘'Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown, “2012 Official Primary Election Results-Attorney General,” accessed June 20, 2012
  12. Kate Brown for Secretary of State, "My plans for 2012," accessed March 5, 2012
  13. Oregon Live, "Oregon 2012 Primary Results," May 16, 2012
  14. Oregon Secretary of State, "Voter Guide," accessed October 18, 2012
  15. Blue Oregon, "On the eve of filing day, a look at the big board," March 5, 2012
  16. Knute Buehler Secretary of State 2012, "A partner for success," accessed March 5, 2012
  17. Oregon Live, "Bend surgeon kicks off Republican campaign for secretary of state," November 16, 2011
  18. Governing, "Secretaries of State Still Juggling Politics, Elections," September 21, 2012
  19. Independent Party of Oregon, "Primary Election Results," July 19, 2012
  20. Knute Buehler Official Campaign Website, "Knute wins independent party nomination," July 19, 2012 (dead link)
  21., "Oregon State Treasury: Ted Wheeler, State Treasurer," accessed March 7, 2012
  22. Oregon Secretary of State, "Elections Division-Candidate Filing," accessed September 13, 2012
  23. 23.0 23.1 Oregon Live, "Oregon labor commissioner election in November, not May -- as candidates thought," March 19, 2012
  24. Oregon Live, "Oregon judge denies attempt by Bruce Starr to hold labor commissioner's election in May," March 21, 2012
  25. Oregon Live, "Why the Oregon labor commissioner election controversy won't die," April 5, 2012