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Election preview: Oregon's state executive candidates file for office

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March 7, 2012

By Greg Janetka and Maresa Strano

Oregon

SALEM, OR: Four state executive offices are up for election in Oregon in 2012: secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer and commissioner of labor and industries. The deadline for candidates to file was March 6, 2012.

The 2012 primaries are not exactly business as usual for the Beaver state. Oregon's Republican party, which has struggled over the last decade to elect a single candidate to statewide office, decided to extend a special invitation to the state's over 420,000 unaffiliated voters to participate in its state executive primaries -- with the exception of the race for commissioner of labor and industries.[1] Opening the primaries was a gesture meant to attract these voters, which compose 21% of the state's electorate, to GOP candidates early in the election season and to build goodwill for the party.

Ultimately, the gesture was an empty one; Republican presence has dwindled so much in recent past that not one of the three chosen Republican primary races are contested. Oregon's unaffiliated voters may have missed the opportunity to help the Republicans nominate a candidate to compete in the general election, but time will tell if the GOP's offer left an imprint nonetheless. The sole Republican to file for a would-be open primary election, secretary of state candidate Knute Buehler, could enjoy a warmer response this November from voters outside his party than he would have otherwise.

Secretary of State

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."[2]

Brown will face one challenger in the primary on May 15. Paul Damian Wells is a computer architect and self identified "Independent voting rights advocate."[3] He claims he is not a Democrat but an Independent and the purpose of his candidacy is to make a statement about the injustice of Oregon's partisan elections. "We can’t have democracy without free elections and we don’t have free elections in Oregon," he writes on his state sanctioned profile page, a space he purchased also a statement about what he calls the corrupt, subsidized nature of Oregon's major party elections.[4]

Dancing on his own on the Republican stage is Knute Buehler, a Bend-based orthopedic surgeon and former Rhodes scholar. Buehler's 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.[5]

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.[6] His well funded campaign and professional clout make him a formidable competitor.

Unless Wells' singular candidacy manages to garner massive support from Democratic voters this May, the general election will most likely feature a showdown between Brown and Buehler.

Attorney General

The attorney general race blew open last October when current officeholder John Kroger (D) announced his plans to retire upon the completion of his term, owing to an unspecified health issue. The buzz surrounding Kroger's forthcoming departure soon gave way to the curiosity over who might replace him. Democratic hopefuls Ellen Rosenblum, a former Appeals Court Judge and Portland-based lawyer Katherine Heekin were quick to line up, erecting campaigns before the new year. Cue the entrance of interim U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton in January: the race for AG was on.

Heekin became the campaign season's first casualty, when reports indicating that her opponents were superiorly endowed with funds and prominent endorsements induced her withdrawal in early February.[7]

Indeed, Rosenblum and Holton have attracted considerable support from donors and colleagues from the legal community, as well as from elected officials. Most notably, Rosenblum was endorsed by former Governor Barbara Roberts, and by Emily's List, the fund-raising network geared toward getting female candidates elected to office. The latter took a special interest in Rosenblum on account of her chance to make history as Oregon's first woman attorney general. For Holton, his long list of supporters include Kroger, who had a reported $280,000 in campaign funds to dispense as he wished at the time of Holton's entry.[8] Holton's father is former Virginia Governor A Linwood Holton and his brother-in-law, Tim Kaine, also served as Virginia's governor and chair of the Democratic National Committee.[9] Given his family's political history, he likely has deep-pocketed friends from outside the state too.

Holton's campaigning on his favorable record as interim U.S. Attorney, a 20-month tenure that successfully tested his capacity for performing in the limelight, and on his plans to tackle prescription drug abuse, bullying, and white-collar crime.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his high-profile experiences on the national stage, Rosenblum contends that her 30-year background as a judge and attorney in the Oregon court system make her the more appropriate choice for attorney general. Citing his relatively recent admission to the Oregon bar (Holton became a member in March 2009), Rosenblum, whose campaign also emphasizes the need to harness predatory lending and escalating substance abuse issues affecting Oregonians.[8]

When Democratic voters decide May 15 which of the two candidates they prefer to succeed Kroger, the election will witness its second loss, but also, a crowning win. With no Republicans filing or credible rumors of third party bids on the horizon, the attorney general contest is poised for a conclusion far ahead of the November general election.

Treasurer

Republicans failed to field a candidate for state Treasurer this year, 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.[10]

Oregon Republican Party Chairman Allen Alley said he was unable to find any high quality candidates who could compete with Democrats, who usually have the powerful support of unions. "The unions are a formidable foe when it comes to these statewide races. I wanted to make sure we had great candidates,” he said.[11]

Commissioner of Labor and Industries

Incumbent Democrat Brad Avakian will be defending his seat as Commissioner of Labor and Industries against veteran state Sen. Bruce Starr (R). Barring any on unforeseen circumstances, since the office is non-partisan, the May 15 primary will determine the winner.

Avakian was first appointed to the office in April 2008, following the resignation of Dan Gardner and was elected to a full term on November 4, 2008. Avakian ran last fall for Oregon's 1st Congressional District seat, losing in the primary. His poor showing in the race, along with charges that he spent much of his workday campaigning, could hurt him in his bid for re-election.[12]

Just as Avakian was in mid-term when he chose to run for Congress, Starr is in mid-term and will retain his seat in the Senate if he loses to Avakian. While incumbents in statewide downballot races rarely lose, Starr has been optimistic about his chances, stating, "I believe we have a unique opportunity this year and I believe I'm in a position to run a credible campaign."[13]

See also

References

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