Ted Cruz

The Oregon Primary Will Matter. Almost.

    Coming to the game late in the primary, Oregon voters may not feel like their votes count on May 17, but the state's handful of delegates could be enough to put Donald Trump at or near the 1,237 delegates he needs for the GOP nomination. 


Coming to the game late in the primary, Oregon voters may not feel like their votes count on May 17, but the state's handful of delegates could be enough to put Donald Trump at or near the 1,237 delegates he needs for the GOP nomination. 

Oregonians voting in the May 17 primary will almost feel like their ballots mattered. Almost.

After primaries in five Eastern states today, including delegate-rich Pennsylvania, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton may be close to locking up their respective parties’ presidential nominations. The Oregon primary may not matter after all. 

But whether or not the outcome is sealed up, the presidential candidates are expected to come here. John Kasich is scheduled to campaign in Oregon this week. Trump, Clinton and Sanders should come, too.

The only other remaining candidate, Ted Cruz, won’t show up. Cruz and Kasich cut a deal by which Cruz will concentrate on Indiana and Kasich will campaign in New Mexico and Oregon. Their collective goal – and increasingly desperate hope – is to win enough delegates to block Trump’s seemingly inevitable march to the GOP presidential nomination this June. Kasich says the divide and conquer strategy was necessary because he and Cruz have limited time and campaign cash.

Kasich has been embraced by a good chunk of Oregon’s GOP establishment, with former Oregon lawmaker Bruce Starr steering his campaign activity here. Kasich’s pragmatic approach to policy and his refusal to engage in negative campaigning fit pretty well with Oregon’s temperament, but the Ohio governor may be viewed by GOP conservatives as not conservative enough. For example, Oregon’s pro-life leader said the Kasich-Cruz deal wouldn’t change her group’s endorsement of Cruz. It also doesn’t help that the Kasich team neglected to submit anything for the Oregon Voters’ Pamphlet.

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders may make his Oregon campaign a referendum on issues he wants to see in the party’s national platform. Sanders sent out a slick mailer devoted entirely to five-point plan to combat climate change. He also has shown an ability to attract a huge crowd at his previous rallies in Portland.

Clinton has experienced hands guiding her Oregon campaign activity. Expect the Clinton pitch in Oregon to be for party unity in the fall to prevent Trump or any other GOP candidate from capturing the White House. Clinton might underscore the need for party unity by pointing to the nomination of U.S. Supreme Court justices who will preserve abortion rights and key aspects of Obamacare and possibly overturn Citizens United, the decision that opened the floodgates to large and sometimes secret corporate campaign contributions.

A Trump appearance, which his local backers are encouraging, would be an event. Despite promises of acting more presidential on the campaign trail, Trump seems to be back to his old ways – calling out critics and taking aim at Clinton. At a rally this week, Trump mocked Kasich for always campaigning while he’s eating.

Because Oregon’s Democratic and Republican primaries are closed, non-affiliated Oregon voters won’t get a chance to cast a ballot for a major party candidate. That invariably incites a debate about a different kind of primary that allows everyone to vote, regardless of party registration.

The Oregon primary may not really matter in determining who wins the 2016 GOP and Democratic presidential nominations, but it will make many Oregonians feel as if their votes matter a little bit. Oregon’s handful of delegates may be enough to push Trump near or over the 1237 delegates he needs to capture the GOP nomination on the first ballot and avoid a contested convention. Oregon’s Democratic vote could lend its voice to the need for progressive platform planks. .

We aren’t likely to see candidates eating at our favorite local diners, but are likely to see them at events, not just faces in the backseat of limousines rushing to or from the airport after a fly-in fundraiser. That makes the Oregon primary matter. Almost.

Oregon's Mailed In Gubernatorial Race

Oregon pioneered mail-in balloting and now may be spearheading a new innovation – the mailed in gubernatorial campaign.

Oregon pioneered mail-in balloting and now may be spearheading a new innovation – the mailed in gubernatorial campaign.

The 2016 presidential race is a tornado of tweets, debates and name-calling. Meanwhile, the 2016 Oregon gubernatorial race is more like a still wind with few Facebook posts and a couple of press releases. Oregon has led the nation in mail-in voting. Now we may be leading it with mailed in campaigning.

Democratic Governor Kate Brown seems to have her foot on the pause button. Republican challenger Bud Pierce is running a campaign that resembles an earnest, sleepy Sunday morning political talk show. Allen Alley, who has run for governor before and entered the race late this go-round, appears to be resting on his name familiarity and party ties to win the GOP nomination.

For Oregon voters looking for a roll-up-your-sleeves discussion of policy, there is mostly silence. For voters rooting for a raucous, bare-knuckles campaign, there is just an empty prize-fighting ring. The political combatants are evidently occupied elsewhere.

Chances are the fireworks will come. There is partisan animosity about a Democratically-backed minimum wage boost, a requirement for paid sick leave and a utility-negotiated deal to end coal power in Oregon. Partisans on both sides of the political aisle may be annoyed by the lack of a vigorous exchange on policy or politics by the candidates.

It’s almost as if Oregon politicians are withdrawing in the face of a tumultuous and coarse political primary battle, as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz wage war in the gutter, and while Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders spar over her Wall Street speeches and the realism of his policy proposals.

This year shaped up as a show-stopper election in Oregon with just about everyone except Senator Jeff Merkley appearing on the ballot. But the promise of a blockbuster ballot has shriveled into a deflated balloon as serious races failed to materialize and the races that exist have resembled junior high school dances with the girls hugging one wall and the boys the other. 

The gubernatorial race so far has been a non-starter. Brown, who took over for Governor John Kitzhaber amid an influence-peddling scandal, got high marks for a strong start. She demonstrated leadership and wielded her friendly personality to good stead. But since then, Brown has grown more cautious, even as the Democratic-led legislature punched through liberal legislative measures in the short 2016 session.

While Brown’s reticence could be explained as politically expedient, it is harder to understand the political logic of Pierce and Alley. Challengers have to lay siege to an incumbent, creating voter willingness to consider an alternative. The best blow Pierce has landed is that things aren’t quite up to snuff in Salem. Alley has basically said we can do better than what we’ve got. It usually takes more than that to unseat an incumbent, even one running for the job for the first time.

Oregon has become a reliable blue state, making a statewide election victory for a Republican a dubious prospect any time. Prospects in 2016 could be even dimmer if Donald Trump is the party’s national standard-bearer, forcing down ballot candidates to spend time disavowing his statements and stands. Neither Pierce nor Alley seem on the same wave length as Trump or his closest rival, Ted Cruz. Maybe they figure the less said, the better.

The closest to political excitement so far in Oregon was a Bernie Sanders rally last week, which was timed to boost his support in the Washington state Democratic presidential caucus. Sanders also filled the Portland TV airwaves with his commercials.

The Oregon primary is now only a few weeks away, so you expect the political pace here to pick up with a gubernatorial debate or a major policy speech or something. Maybe the candidates were waiting for spring break to end to launch their real campaigns. Or maybe they are on an extended spring beak themselves.

Portlanders have seen a respectful contest to replace Charlie Hales as mayor. The candidates have talked about policy differences, which are tiny, and the two frontrunners insisted that other candidates be included in mayoral forums. All very polite, very Portland, very much material for the next season of Portlandia. 

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

All for One, One for All

One of the under-reported features of the Grand Bargain is the "everything must pass or nothing passes" part of the agreement.

That was always the implicit understanding when the grand bargain involved public employee retirement reductions and tax increases to generate more money for K-12 schools. 

But the deal has expanded to include small business tax cuts and a local pre-emption on genetically modified crops. That expansion has altered the political math. 

First, a quick lesson about Oregon legislative procedure, which doesn't allow multi-subject omnibus bills. Congress can stuff Brussels sprouts and brownies into the same legislative stew so there is something to like for almost everybody. In Oregon, lawmakers pretty much have to vote on each major provision separately.

Now back to the grand bargain. It appears to require five bills — two to trim PERS benefits, one to raise taxes and provide for a small business tax cut, one for the GMO pre-emption and one to appropriate money for K-12 schools, other educational institutions and community mental health. 

For legislative Republicans, all of those are sweet votes. For legislative Democrats, three of the five cut against key constituencies — public employees and environmental groups opposed to pre-empting local bans on GMO crops. 

Much has already been written about the give-and-take on PERS cuts and tax hikes. A deal was close during the 2013 regular session, but didn't quite make it over the finish line, in part because it failed to include small business tax cuts pushed by GOP Senators Larry George and Brian Boquist.