Low Turnout Marks Primary Voting

An 11th-hour surge by Jefferson Smith landed him in second place as he and Charlie Hales will duel this fall to become mayor of Portland. Photo by Willamette Week.Nearly seven of 10 registered Oregon voters saved postage and didn't vote in Tuesday's primary election that booted two legislative incumbents, dismissed the business community's favorite for mayor of Portland and effectively elected a new attorney general. Turnout was low despite a presidential primary in which the major nominees already had been chosen.

Even a spirited Portland mayoral race failed to spark voter interest in Multnomah County, as Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith finished atop a crowded field to fight on in November. New Seasons co-founder and establishment favorite Eileen Brady saw her early lead wilt away in the final days of the campaign.

Clackamas County became the test garden for Tea Party politics in Oregon as former Wilsonville Mayor John Ludlow emerged to challenge sitting Chair Charlotte Lehan this fall. Ludlow swept past previous conservative favorite Paul Savas, who will retain his seat on the Clackamas County Commission, and former House Speaker Dave Hunt, who finished a disappointing fourth. The same political tussle shapes up as Commissioner Jamie Damon faces conservative former House member Tootie Smith. Former Commissioner and state Senator Martha Schrader won her seat in Tuesday's election.

Women activists touted a number of key wins, led by Ellen Rosenblum's comfortable victory in the Democratic primary for attorney general over Dwight Holton. Despite marijuana laws strangely becoming a focal point in the campaign, Rosenblum should face only token Republican opposition in the general election after GOP operatives mounted a write-in campaign for James Buchal. Since Attorney General John Kroger plans to resign by this summer, it is possible Rosenblum will be appointed to fill out the rest of his term and run as the incumbent in November.

One of the most unusual post-election boasts comes from the Portland-based Bus Project, which dispatched a team to Pendleton to knock on Republican doors to help veteran GOP Rep. Bob Jenson fend off a conservative challenger.

Primary election results in legislative races set the stage for what promises to be hard-fought campaigns to gain control of the Oregon House and Senate. However, control in the House may boil down to what happens in three suburban Portland districts held by freshmen Reps. Katie Eyre, Patrick Sheehan and Julie Parrish. Democrats have recruited credible challengers in all three races – political activist Ben Unger facing Eyre: attorney Shemia Fagan going against Sheehan; and Metro Council and former House member Carl Hosticka opposing Parrish.

The best hope for a Republican House gain is in Coos Bay. House Co-speaker Arnie Roblan is running for an open Senate seat. Republicans have nominated Coos Bay businesswoman and nurse Nancy Brouhard, but she faces Democrat Caddy McKeon, who sits on the Coos Bay Port Commission.

The emphatic defeats of Democratic Rep. Mike Schaufler of Happy Valley and GOP Senator Chris Telfer of Bend won't affect the battle for control, since both seats are expected to remain in control of their respective parties. 

Schaufler's defeat at the hands of Jeff Reardon, with the help of environmentalist support, clears the path to the Speakership for Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland, if Democrats can pick up at least one House seat. Incensed by opposition from his own House Democratic caucus, Schaufler had pledged to oppose Kotek's election as Speaker by aligning with Republicans or running for the post himself.

Tim Knopp, the former House majority leader who unseated Telfer, will give the Senate Republican caucus a more vocal and reliable conservative vote and potentially a new leader down the line.

Veteran political activist Steve Novick won his first political office, capturing the Portland city commissioner seat now held by Randy Leonard, but incumbent Commissioner Amanda Fritz faces five more months of battling with long-term legislator Mary Nolan. Because of a self-imposed limit on campaign contributions, Fritz has lent her campaign cash to respond to sharp criticism from Nolan. They face a November run-off because both received around 45 percent of the votes, while 10 percent was siphoned off by minor candidates.

Treasurer Ted Wheeler is in the comfortable position of virtually no opposition. He scheduled a post-election event to commemorate his climb of Mt. Everest. Secretary of State Kate Brown coasted to the Democratic nomination Tuesday, but may face a stiffer-then-expected general election fight from GOP newcomer Knute Buehler, a Bend surgeon. Brown's bid for re-election has been hampered by some recent high-profile missteps.

The Metro Council will have three fresh faces in Bob Stacey, the former director of the 1000 Friends of Oregon, housing advocate Sam Chase and Tigard Mayor Craig Dirksen. Washington County Commissioner Dick Schouten was re-elected.

In one of the most competitive primary races, Julie Williamson defeated Sharon Meieran in a House district that leans heavily Democratic. Primary wins virtually assure a number of winners legislative seats in the 2013 session. They include:   Williamson (Nolan’s open seat); Democrat Jessica Vaga Pederson (Smith’s open seat); Republican Gail Whitsett (Rep. Bill Garrard’s open seat); Democrat Jeff Reardon (defeated Schaufler); Democrat John Lively (Rep. Terry Beyer’s open seat); Republican Bill Hansell (Senator Dave Nelson’s open seat); and Republican Herman Baertschiger (Senator Jason Atkinson’s open seat).

Tim Sercombe found himself odd man out, despite a strong endorsement by The Oregonian, for an open seat on the Oregon Supreme Court. Portland lawyer Nena Cook and Multnomah Circuit Court Judge Richard Baldwin will vie for the seat this fall.