Brad Avakian

A Barnstorming Debate for Secretary of State

Democrat Brad Avakian and Republican Dennis Richardson may be missing their only window of opportunity this summer to make their case on why each should become Oregon’s next secretary of state – and the person next in line to become governor.

Democrat Brad Avakian and Republican Dennis Richardson may be missing their only window of opportunity this summer to make their case on why each should become Oregon’s next secretary of state – and the person next in line to become governor.

How quickly we forget that Oregon’s secretary of state is next in line to become governor. Oregon’s sitting governor, Kate Brown, is a case in point. Yet the general election battle for this significant statewide post hasn’t generated even a water fight so far.

A Google search showed no news stories about the race between Democrat Brad Avakian and Republican Dennis Richardson since election night when each won contested primary fights.

The candidates are undoubtedly busy raising campaign cash, but that doesn’t explain why Avakian and Richardson, who couldn’t be further apart on the political spectrum, haven’t taken their campaigns to the airwaves to earn valuable – and basically free – media coverage.

Avakian, a former legislator and currently Oregon’s Labor Commissioner, and Richardson, a former legislator and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate, aren’t shy and retiring personalities. These former trial lawyers seldom hesitate to share their views. This summer may be their only window to talk to and be heard by Oregonians before the sprawling, brawling presidential race overwhelms all else political this fall.

Richardson and Avakian have nothing to lose and potentially a lot to gain. They certainly have a lot to debate. Richardson is viewed as an arch conservative, while Avakian has projected himself as an all-in progressive. Avakian wants to prosecute polluters. Richardson wants to strip away regulation that he says strangles business growth.

Avakian took flak in the Democratic primary for expressing views on issues that go well beyond the immediate purview of the secretary of state’s office in Oregon, but not necessarily beyond what we expect from a governor. A wider canvass of policy issues wouldn’t be a challenge for Richardson, who campaigned better than most expected against former Governor John Kitzhaber who sought and won an unprecedented fourth term in 2014 before resigning amid a scandal in early 2015.

An early poll suggests Richardson is leading the race against Avakian and Independent Party candidate Paul Damian Wells. In fact, Richardson received 60,000 more votes in the primary than Avakian, though total Democratic votes cast in the primary dwarfed Republican ballots by around 130,000 votes.

There may be some tactical advantage in running a “dark” campaign during the summer, but it isn’t advantageous for Oregonians who would benefit by a round of statewide hot weather debates by the three secretary of state candidates, who could in the blink of an eye wind up as governor. There apparently won’t be gubernatorial debates between Brown and GOP challenger Bud Pierce until the fall, so the coast is clear for Avakian, Richardson and Wells.

It might take some creative staging to draw crowds, like teaming the debate with a summer concert series featuring bands from different parts of the state. The prospect of two major candidates in shirtsleeves barnstorming through Oregon’s warmer summer weather to talk about the future of the state might be a lot more compelling than you think. Political passions are running high, so why not put on a movable political passion play.

Like we said, there is a lot to debate, despite the relatively confined role of secretary of state, but with an officeholder with the potential to play a much bigger, consequential role. And no one could say they didn’t have a chance to see and hear the candidates in the flesh when voting time rolls around in November, which is a real possibility if this race stays invisible.

Oregon’s Primary a Microcosm of the National Election

    Political outsiders dominated in the Oregon primary as Democrat Bernie Sanders scored a double-digit win over frontrunner Hillary Clinton and newcomer Bud Pierce captured the GOP gubernatorial nomination.


Political outsiders dominated in the Oregon primary as Democrat Bernie Sanders scored a double-digit win over frontrunner Hillary Clinton and newcomer Bud Pierce captured the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Oregon’s presidential primary Tuesday serves as a microcosm of the national election. Democrat Bernie Sanders keeps winning to complicate frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s pivot to the general election and Republican Donald Trump glided to victory even though 32 percent of Oregon GOP voters cast ballots for candidates who had dropped out of the race.

Republicans chose Bud Pierce, a first-time candidate who largely self-funded his campaign, to challenge incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown. Portland voters swept in Ted Wheeler as mayor-elect, Brad Avakian won a hotly contested race as the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, and Clackamas County will see a fall runoff for commission chair pitting Jim Bernard against incumbent John Ludlow.

Hood River County voters approved a ban on a water bottling plant, parting ways with voters in Cascade Locks who supported Nestlé Waters plan to build the facility there. Meanwhile, Klamath and Grant county voters rejected marijuana-related businesses, Portlanders narrowly okayed a 10-cent gas tax increase and Multnomah County voters gave solid approval to an Oregon Historical Museum bond.

The Sanders victory in Oregon defied widely published polling results that showed Clinton holding a double-digit lead. With almost 90 percent of the vote counted, Sanders posted a 12 percent lead, and his dominance didn’t stop in Portland and Eugene. He outpolled Clinton in every Oregon county except Gilliam.

Sanders’ success in Oregon sends a troubling message to Clinton’s campaign. He likely would have done even better here if independents and non-affiliated voters could have voted for him in the primary.

Trump carried all Oregon counties, which isn’t surprising since no one else was campaigning. A year ago, when Trump announced his candidacy, it was unimaginable he would still be in the race at this point, let alone on what amounts to a victory lap to the GOP presidential nomination. 

Pierce handily defeated Allen Alley, a former Oregon GOP chairman, by running a campaign as a fresh outsider face. In his campaign victory speech, Pierce, who is a Salem medical doctor, told supporters, “I am not corrupt. I am not corruptible."

Raw vote totals confirm that Oregon is a blue state. Sanders and Clinton received around 550,000 votes compared 350,000 GOP votes for a presidential candidate. Brown, who faced only marginal opposition in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, racked up more than 400,000 votes while all GOP candidates received a combined total of 286,000 votes. 

Avakian overcame strong opposition from fellow Democrats Val Hoyle and Richard Devlin in what emerged as the most bruising campaign in Oregon’s primary. Avakian, who is state labor commissioner, now will face Republican Dennis Richardson, who lost to John Kitzhaber in the 2014 gubernatorial race. The wounds inflicted on Avakian in the primary may make this a more interesting race in the fall, giving Republicans at least a glimmer of hope to capture a statewide office.

Wheeler, who is state treasurer, will be in an interesting position as Portland’s mayor in the wings until he is officially sworn in next January. Wheeler was recruited by a coalition of business and labor to challenge Mayor Charlie Hales, who decided not to seek re-election. Hales has continued to fester a contentious relationship with groups such as the Portland Business Alliance, which Wheeler may be asked to mediate over the next few months.

Democrat Tobias Read will face Republican John Gudman to succeed Wheeler, who was term-limited as state treasurer.

Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz easily won re-election, but Steve Novick will be forced into a fall runoff, probably against architect Stuart Emmons, after capturing only around 43 percent of the vote.

Clackamas County Chairman John Ludlow finds himself in the same situation, only he trailed fellow Commissioner Jim Bernard who collected 37 percent of the vote to Ludlow’s 28 percent. They will scramble to win the other 45 percent of votes cast that were split between Commissioner Paul Savas and Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay. Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith also will compete in a fall runoff against challenger Ken Humbertson. Commissioner Martha Schrader won re-election.

Victories in November by Bernard and Humbertson would change the tilt on the Clackamas County Commission to more middle-of-the-road politics.

Incumbent Washington County Commissioners Roy Rogers and Dick Schouten were re-elected, as were Metro Councilors Craig Dirksen, Sam Chase and Bob Stacey. Schouten and Stacey ran unopposed.

Perhaps the most interesting legislative primary race saw newcomer Rich Vial capture the GOP nomination in Oregon House District 26 over former Rep. Matt Wingard who sought a comeback. Wingard faced stinging opposition centered on his previous conduct that forced him to resign.

House Speaker Tina Kotek turned back a primary challenge from Sharon Nasset, whose campaign was tied to questionable tactics involving misleading mailings.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden won the Democratic nomination after threats failed to materialize for a challenge to his re-election from the political left. Congressman Kurt Schrader overcame a challenge from progressive candidate Dave McTeague. Congressmen Peter DeFazio and Greg Walden and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici walked over token opposition in their respective primary contests.

Results on local school elections were mixed. Bond measures in Gaston and McMinnville won, but ones in the Corbett, Molalla and Centennial districts lost. Clackamas County voters gave the green light to commissioners to explore funding for road improvements. Rogue Valley Transit won voter approval for a property tax increase and Rogue Community College passed a $20 million bond measure.

Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins predicted 1 million votes would be cast in this year’s primary, marking only the second time that threshold has been reached. The first was in 2008, sparked by the Democratic presidential runoff between Clinton and Barack Obama.

The primary was the first statewide election since Oregon’s Motor Voter law went into effect, which automatically registered people to vote when they took out a driver’s license. Atkins previously reported that many newly registered voters affiliated with a political party, with Democratic registration far outstripping Republican registration. 

The Ungubernatorial Candidates

Two Republicans — Rep. Dennis Richardson and businessman Jon Justesen — have declared for governor and the Democratic incumbent is weighing whether to seek an unprecedented fourth term.

But what's more remarkable is the long list of people who aren’t showing any signs of running in 2014, even though the gubernatorial primary is now just nine months away.

One reason for reticence is the status of Governor Kitzhaber, who remains popular, but hasn’t decided whether to go for another term. Because of his name familiarity, he can afford to wait, keeping challengers cooling their heels.

But indecision often can be all the bait some eager beavers need to step forward as potential candidates and see whether any winds collect in their political sails.

Here is a quick look at who is definitely not running and who might be lurking in the weeds if Kitzhaber decides to focus on his own personal Happiness Index:

Definitely Out

  • Unsuccessful 2010 GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Dudley, who has moved out of Oregon.
  • Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, who has risen steadily in the U.S. House leadership ranks and sees no good reason to sacrifice that for a gubernatorial run, at least at this stage of his political career.

Special Election Could Tumble Legislative Dominos

The legislature’s 2012 session is more than five months away, but already legislative leaders are making contingency plans for a possible shake-up in control and session management, hinging on who might prevail in the special election to replace Congressman Dave Wu.

Governor John Kitzhaber set January 31, 2012 as the special election date when the party nominees will square off, the day before the legislature convenes. If one of the sitting legislators running for Wu's seat wins, it could trip a series of changes that upset the balance of power in the Oregon Senate and House. Currently, Democrats hold a 16-14 margin in the Senate. The House is tied 30-30 with shared control by Democrats and Republicans.

Senator Suzanne Bonamici, D-PortlandDemocratic Senator Suzanne Bonamici is in a pretty good place to win the race.  A widely respected member from Beaverton, she is the only woman in the race for a district that hasn’t elected a Republican since 1972.

If Bonamici wins January 31, she would resign her state Senate seat to head to Washington, D.C. (Nancy Pelosi won’t let a new member linger in Oregon too long). That would shrink Senate Democratic control to a 15-14 margin until a replacement could be appointed, a process that could take about three weeks at best.  In other words, most of the shortened session.

The Post-Session Shuffle

Do you hear that sound? That pitter-patter of feet is what's known as the post-session shuffle, where legislators and staff leave their posts to run for office and work for other organizations, or replace those who left. Here's the list of confirmed and rumored switcheroos:

Reps. Mary Nolan, D-Portland (left), and Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, are leaving the Oregon House to pursue other elected positions.Oregon House

Rep. Mary Nolan, D-Portland, is running for Portland City Council against Amanda Fritz. Sharon Meieran, a lawyer-turned-emergency room doctor, is thinking about running as a Democrat to replace Nolan.

Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, says he'll likely retire at the end of his term. No word yet on serious candidates looking to replace him.