By editorial board • 

Voters turn out in force to deliver mixed message

Tuesday’s balloting produced a bountiful harvest of winners and losers. Many outcomes were highly predictable or readily explainable, but others ran against the grain of conventional thinking. Highlights included:

– The state’s powerful public employee unions, known for using their financial muscle to make or break Democratic candidates, lavished money on hand-picked challengers to punish Mark Hass, Ginny Burdick and Rob Nosse over support of a pension reform measure last year. They managed to propel Shemia Fagan to a narrow victory over Hass for the Democratic secretary of state nomination, but failed miserably in their bids to oust Burdick and Nosse. They also flopped with a candidate from their own ranks in another race.

– Despite a tanking economy and soaring unemployment, Portland-area voters approved a 10-year Metro levy allocating $250 million annually to help the homeless. They also gave their blessing to new tax levies in the Portland suburbs of Tigard, Canby, Wilsonville and Happy Valley.

– Reformers ascended to district attorney posts in two of Oregon’s most populous counties, Clackamas and Multnomah, and one of its most unlikely, Wasco. Strikingly, progressive reformer Mike Schmidt swamped a veteran prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Multnomah, winning better than 3-to-1, and defense attorney Matthew Ellis ousted a scandal-ridden five-term incumbent in Wasco.

– Despite pleas from Bernie Sanders die-hards for a show of continued support, Joe Biden buried Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in a decidedly anti-climactic Democratic presidential primary. It was hard to detect even a whiff of protest vote.

– In Eastern Oregon’s ruby-red 2nd Congressional District, sagebrush voters opted for one of their own in the GOP primary — Cliff Bentz of Ontario. He upset the better known Knute Buehler of Bend and Jason Atkinson of Ashland. Buehler’s downfall seemed to be running for governor as a moderate, but for Congress as a conservative, in back-to-back races. That may have left voters confused about his true beliefs.

– While voters in Portland and its immediate suburbs were backing environmental, social issue and labor union activists for city council and legislative seats, voters in more rural counties downstate were more inclined to line up behind activists from the political right. In Clackamas County, Tootie Smith, who lost in her initial re-election bid, unseated Jim Bernard for the county commission chairmanship this time. And here in Yamhill County, longtime Smith backer Lindsay Berschauer claimed an apparent majority in a three-way race to avoid a November runoff.

Republicans seeking nonpartisan posts, Smith and Berschauer benefited from rivals weighed down with personal baggage and used that to their advantage — controversially so in Berschauer’s case. However, they are seasoned political veterans who ran well-managed and -financed campaigns on favorable turf. So it’s hard to say wounded opposition played a decisive role.

– In the only other local race of note, Kris Bledsoe decisively outpolled Paulette Alexandria and Katie St. Ores in a county treasurer bid. She fell just short of an outright majority, even though Alexandria ran a much higher profile campaign. Bledsoe boasted the deeper geographical roots, the longest record of local involvement and name recognition from two previous runs for public office, aiding her cause.

– Statewide turnout was a respectable 40%, making Oregon a national leader once again.


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