The 2016 Race

Intrigues and speculations on the next race for governor

Alright, already! Enough about federal politics; we already know the outcome of the 2016 presidential primaries: Elizabeth Warren versus Ted Cruz. According to U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, Hillary Clinton was last seen dumping her personal email server in the Deschutes County dump. Thinking she was actually serious about running, I had already switched parties and sent Texas Senator Cruz my contribution. He’s perfect for me, as a former Democrat. He has endorsed outsider Tea Party candidates against sitting U.S. senators, even while serving as vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the organization tasked with electing — and reelecting — GOP senators! You da Man! And who could ever forget his Green Eggs and Ham filibuster speech to ward off that socialist Obamacare stuff?

Forgive me, I digress. Where was I? Oh, yes, the quick exit of John Kitzhaber from our political stage leaves Oregonians with a unique political landscape for 2016. We’re used to electing governors every two years after we elect a president. And we’re used to electing secretaries of state in presidential election years, usually with higher turnout. It’s worked that way since Mark Hatfield began his first term as secretary of state in 1957 and his first term as governor two years later. Tom McCall did the same thing in 1965 and 1967. Barbara Roberts was elected governor halfway through her second term as secretary of state. Four of the last 10 secretaries of state have become governor, three by election.

So 2016 just got busier with these two offices going head-to-head in a presidential election year. Let’s begin with Democrats in the governor’s race. It’s a simpler calculus. We have an incumbent who has clearly indicated her interest in this position in the past, and Oregon hasn’t elected a Republican governor since Vic Atiyeh’s re-election in 1982.

While incumbency is an obvious plus for Kate Brown, a savvy 25-year veteran politician, that incumbency is accompanied by a closer examination of her political history as this legislative session unfolds. In her last two statewide elections, she won multi-candidate races by 51 percent in high turnout years.

If he decides to throw his hat in the ring, Oregon’s treasurer, Ted Wheeler, presents a different political profile. He became treasurer in 2010 in a special election following the death of Ben Westlund in office and was re-elected in 2012 to a four-year term. He can’t run for another term as treasurer based on an opinion by our attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, which was sought by … guess who? Did I mention Kate Brown was a savvy veteran? Both Brown and Wheeler spent a lot of time traveling around the state prior to John’s re-election, presumably edging for a shot at the 2018 governor’s race. Things changed. Wheeler is also looking at the mayoral race in Portland.

The Republicans, party animals that they are, could have a wide-open scrum. You’d think Dems would be the harder cats to herd, but at least they only meet once, everyone in the same place. But them Republicans — it must be ’cuz they’re rich and they can afford it — they hold two parties! On the same day! The Dorchester R’s are apparently sniveling weaklings who have given in on gay marriage and abortion. The true believers staged their “Freedom Rally” in Portland, the same group that helped elect Art Robinson chair of their state party a while back. The most widely mentioned candidates are businessman Allen Alley, who ran in 2010, and Dennis Richardson (my personal favorite). The scariest name out there is Bud Pierce, president of the Oregon Medical Association. But he sounds sorta sane, so he’ll probably never make it out of a Republican primary, although Chris Dudley did in 2010.

Gov. Brown also changed the dynamic of the secretary of state race by appointing Jeanne Atkins as a caretaker who won’t run in the 2016 race. That leaves the field wide open for D’s as well as R’s. Prominent Democratic names include Eugene Rep. Val Hoyle, Portland Sen. Diane Rosenbaum, State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, House Co-chair of Ways and Means Rep. Peter Buckley and Sen. Richard Devlin, the other co-chair of Ways and Means. Republican candidates mentioned are former state senator Jason Atkinson of Jacksonville, who lost a primary bid for governor in 2006, Rep. Knute Buehler of Bend, who ran for secretary of state in 2012 and lost to Kate, but garnered 43 percent of the vote, Rep. Julie Parrish, a pariah to her male-dominated caucus, and former state senator Bruce Starr of Hillsboro, who lost his seat last November and lost a bid for labor commissioner in 2012. Quién sabe?

Next: Is right-to-work coming back? Or will there be another Grand Bargain?