February State of the Ballot

There’s just over a month left until the March 8th deadline for candidates to declare for or withdraw from the May primary. This feels like a good time to take a preliminary look at what’s likely to be on the May ballot. Remember, though, that there will be plenty of changes in the next four weeks!

Change ups are especially likely in races for seats in the Oregon State Legislature. The Oregon Secretary of State only opened registration for the offices of state representative, state senator, and US representative at the beginning of January. That’s because final maps from the redistricting process needed to be in place before we could even know how many seats would be available.

Right now, I’m following about 95 races across every level of government that will impact some part of Portland. Of course, I’m following some races more closely than others, but I’ve got preliminary information on who is registered as a candidate or has otherwise established that they’re going to run.

A few things I want to highlight before jumping into a more in-depth analysis:

  • Half of the races I’m following (47 out of 95) have only one candidate who is registered, raising money, or has at least declared they’re running. Most of these races are either for state legislature seats or the judiciary, although there are a few positions on the county or Metro level. While there are no races on my list with zero candidates, state legislative races with just one candidate mean that the opposing political party won’t be represented in the primary.
  • The governor’s race currently has 27 registered and eligible candidates, plus another five who are actively campaigning but haven’t filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office and another six who have been deemed ineligible but can appeal. There’s also one candidate with a pending decision on eligibility, bringing the total number of candidates up to somewhere between 32 and 39.
  • Fundraising in February is very different than fundraising before January 31st. I’ll get more into the details below, but the state legislature is in session for the next several weeks and incumbent state representatives and state senators aren’t supposed to fundraise during the session. They can accept donations but have more robust reporting requirements. The deadline for qualifying for public campaign funds in Portland has also passed, so anyone declaring their candidacy now will have to bring in money on their own to be competitive.

Judicial races

We’re currently looking at judicial elections for the Oregon Supreme Court, the Oregon Court of Appeals and county-level circuit courts. Exactly who is running for what is changing just about every week: the Governor of Oregon can make appointments to fill judicial seats whenever a vacancy appears. The new appointee then must run in the next general election that occurs more than 60 days after their appointment. Because judges are non-partisan candidates, the May primary is effectively a general election and any judge appointed before the March filing deadline will likely be on the ballot. Appointing a high-level judge also tends to cause ripples, because selections tend to come from lower courts, which then require a new judge of their own.

Governor Kate Brown has appointed judges to several levels of the Oregon court system in the past month. Within the courts I’m following for the 2022 election cycle, changes include:

Currently none of the judges running for re-election at any level appear to have any competition and that seems unlikely to change. Most judicial candidate do minimal fundraising and campaigning as a result — during the 2020 election cycle, when state supreme court elections set new fundraising records across the country, candidates for the Oregon Supreme Court raised a total of $8,260. In comparison, candidates for the Illinois Supreme Court raised over $12.5 million. Three seats were up for election on both Oregon and Illinois’ supreme courts.

Portland races

Two seats on Portland’s city commission are on the ballot this year. Dan Ryan faces four challengers. Out of those four, only AJ McCreary seems to be mounting a serious campaign — among other factors, only McCreary and Ryan qualified for matching funds under the Small Donors Election program. Akasha Lawerence Spence was previously a contender for the seat, but Lawerence Spence withdrew from the race after an appointment to complete former State Senator Ginny Burdick’s term. Lawrence Spence has endorsed McCreary’s run.

Jo Ann Hardesty faces seven challengers (all of whom happen to be White). While Hardesty has worked to launch Portland Street Response, create car-free streets, and otherwise meet progressive goals, she’s struggled with opposition from Portland police that has lead to legal action. A recent survey commissioned by the Portland Business Alliance suggests that only 18% of Portland voters would reelect Hardesty if the election was held today. However, the many dramatic headlines about this new polling information ignore several factors.

  1. Only 250 prospective voters were surveyed. There are roughly 430,000 voters in Portland. Reports on the poll offer no insights into how those 250 respondents were selected.
  2. Progressive and liberal candidates are getting hit across the country following a lack of federal and state action to reduce the harms caused by COVID-19.
  3. The Portland Business Alliance is not a fan of Hardesty’s efforts in City Hall, including her attempts to cancel contracts that funnel city funds into that organization’s accounts.

While there is certainly dissatisfaction with Hardesty (and all of Portland’s elected officials), don’t rely on the Portland Business Alliance’s polling to predict election outcomes. Factors like Hardesty’s speed in bringing in the small donations necessary to qualify for public campaign funds may be better indicators (she was the first candidate to qualify in this cycle).

There’s a chance that the 2022 election cycle may be the last for Portland’s archaic city commission system. The on-going charter review process is prioritizing changes to the city’s form of government as well as election systems. One factor in the process has given me pause, however. While city commissioners are banned from sitting on the charter review commission, there’s no ban on members of the charter review commission running for city office while also changing how elections work. Hardesty’s leading challenger, Vadim Mozyrsky, is doing exactly that. I find the situation uncomfortable. We’re seeing members of the charter review commission speaking in a variety of venues (including private venues, given the interest of many local organizations in lobbying for specific changes to the charter that they consider beneficial). Mozyrsky is also currently a member of the Portland Committee on Community Engaged Policing and the Citizen Review Committee. Mozyrsky’s multiple roles are confusing and could create an appearance of malfeasance even in the most honest of campaigns.

Earlier in this election cycle, we faced a chance of a city auditor’s race with no candidates at all. While that situation might have been interesting to follow because write-in candidates would actually stand a chance, two candidates both registered and qualified for public campaign financing between mid-December and the end of January.

County-level races

Multnomah County is only looking at a handful of races this year. The County Commission Chair race gathering all the attention. Since Deborah Kafoury is term-limited, three of the four other Multnomah County Commissioners are running to chair the board (along with two other candidates). The fourth commissioner, Susheela Jayapal, is running for re-election. Jayapal faces one challenger, Brian Landon, who is a registered candidate but doesn’t seem to have a working campaign site yet. The job of sheriff is also up for election this year. Because of the requirements for that position, candidates are effectively limited to people already working in the carceral system, either as law enforcement agents or within prisons and jails. So far, I’m having trouble working up enthusiasm about any of the three candidates — none of them have spoken publicly about issues like COVID-19 transmission in the two jails overseen by the Multnomah County Sheriff, nor have any of the three addressed specific actions they might take to reduce their violence against people of color, renters facing evictions, or protestors.

In Clackamas County, the races for county clerk, county assessor, county treasurer, and county justice of the peace are all fairly straightforward with one candidate each. All of those candidates are incumbents with the exception of Catherine McMullen, who is running for the clerk’s office. Incumbent clerk Sherry Hall doesn’t seem to be running and has not registered, although I have been unable to find a source that specifically says she isn’t running. Multiple candidates are running for each of the two open seats on the Clackamas County Commission, however. I’m following Libra Forde’s campaign closely — she’s running against Paul Savas, who is hoping for a fourth term on the commission. Forde’s efforts to support youth organizers, including during her time on the North Clackamas School Board, are particularly interesting.

The races in Washington County are more competitive, especially in comparison. There are multiple candidates running for all but one of the six positions up for election this year. The race for Washington County District Attorney is one we should all be watching: incumbent Kevin Barton has already raised almost $300,000, including $100,000 from Phil Knight. A similar donation from Knight to Barton in 2018 turned that year’s Washington County District Attorney election into the most expensive district attorney election in Oregon to date — although this year looks like it could leave 2018’s record in the dust. That’s troubling given Barton’s history of discrimination. Brian Decker, a former Washington County public defender, is running against Barton. Decker has gathered numerous endorsements from both elected officials and community leaders, but he’s only raised about a third of Barton’s haul so far.

Metro races

Six positions at Metro are up for election: all of the incumbents are running, with the exception of Shirley Craddick. Craddick is term limited. Ashton Simpson, who is running for the seat Craddick has held for the past decade, and Brian Evans, who is running for reelection as Metro Auditor, have no challengers. Metro elections are non-partisan (as are county and municipal elections in Oregon), so if any candidate gets more than 50% of votes in the May primary, they’re automatically elected — which seems likely in several of this year’s Metro races. If no candidate gets more than 50% of votes, the two candidates with the most votes will head to the November ballot for a run off.

State-level races

As Kate Brown is term-limited and won’t be running for reelection, a long list of politicians consider the governor’s mansion up for grabs. It’s early days yet and we can expect quite a few of the current candidates to drop out of the race before we get to the primary, which will reduce the list even further. Betsy Johnson, who is not running as a member of a political party, is leading fundraising with over $3.4 million. Johnson has the advantage of not needing to run for the primary — because the primary decides between Democratic and Republican candidates to narrow the field to two party nominees, independent candidates get to go straight to the general election ballot in November. Johnson can continue to fundraise from her numerous industry supporters for months, while most of the other candidates are still fighting over the primary.

Nicholas Kristof is the second most successful fundraiser at this point, with over $2.7 million in contributions. While the Oregon Secretary of State’s office deemed Kristof ineligible to run, he has appealed that decision to the Oregon Supreme Court. They’re expected to rule at any moment. Kristof is able to continue fundraising indefinitely and has pulled in over $130,000 since being ruled ineligible to run.

In an interesting move, Casey Kulla decided to switch from running for governor to running for the commissioner’s seat for the Bureau of Labor and Industries. There are three other candidates running for the seat, but Kulla’s pursuit of a higher office have already resulted in substantially more media coverage than any of the other three have received. The current commissioner, Val Hoyle, is not running for reelection because she is running for a legislative seat instead.

Since the Oregon State Legislature is currently in session and I’ll likely be discussing moves by specific state senators and representatives for the next few weeks, I’m not going to go into depth on individual races. There’s likely to be more turn over this year than in the average state legislature election cycle, due partially to redistricting changing exactly who is voting in given districts but also due to the number of gubernatorial candidates who have resigned from the state legislature which has already required filling numerous vacancies.

Federal races

Due to demographic growth documented in the 2020 U.S. Census, Oregon is adding a sixth member of the U.S. House of Representatives to our roster. There is a long list of candidates for the new seat and it’s a bit of a toss up at the moment. Neither fundraising nor endorsements are really making any candidate stand out: multiple candidates have loaned substantial amounts to their campaigns and endorsements are scattered across the field.

Aside from the race for the 6th Congressional District, I’m also following the races for the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Districts. While two of the incumbents, Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer, are facing primary challengers, neither challenger is well established and both will likely face major difficulties to match the national Democratic fundraising machine. Ron Wyden, who is running for reelection to the U.S. Senate is in a similar situation, although five Republican candidates are currently fighting a battle over who gets to face Wyden in November.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who is challenging Kurt Schrader, the long-term Democratic incumbent in the 5th Congressional District, has a bit more name recognition. McLeod-Skinner may also benefit from voter demographic changes due to redistricting and Schrader’s reputation for voting more with Republicans than with his own party.

By Thursday Bram

Thursday Bram founded PDX.Vote after making numerous zines, newsletters, and other media about politics in Portland, Oregon. Thursday has also written for publications ranging from Autostraddle.com to Entrepreneur Magazine. You can find more of Thursday's work at ThursdayBram.com.