By editorial board • 

Stephenson, Kulla and Ortega get nods in nonpartisan races

The top of the ticket for the first of a planned series of April endorsement editorials consists of the seven-way race for labor commissioner and two-way race for Position 3 on the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Yes, there is method to our madness.

Those are the only two races with the potential, in one case, or certainty, in the other, of being decided in the May 17 primary. That’s because — like our local county commissioner races, to be addressed later in the month — they are being run on a non-partisan basis.

Here are the decisions we reached this week:


Labor Commissioner

Though the field features seven candidates, it looks to us like a three-way race among civil rights lawyer Christina Stephenson, Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla and former state Rep. Cheri Helt.

The size of the field suggests no one will secure an outright  majority in the primary, so the two top vote-getters will end up squaring off in the November general election. We think that Stephenson will be one of those, given the  robust support she’s getting from organized labor, and that Kulla’s extensive and detailed action agenda for the office should earn him the other ballot slot.

If Helt gets the nod instead, her Republican heritage suggests we’ll get a general election campaign decided on pure partisan politics rather than meaningful issue considerations, to both Helt’s loss and ours in this deeply blue state.

Kulla, whose background is in farming, is touting expanded apprenticeships, protection of agency independence, even-handed and evidence-based decisionmaking, greater support for small business and enhanced worker protection from the impacts of COVID and climate change. Those are issues, lacking from other campaigns, worth wider airing over the coming months.


Court of Appeals

Darleen Ortega, a graduate of George Fox University and the University of Michigan Law School, has been serving honorably and capably on Oregon’s appellate bench since 2003. There is no reason to replace her, and particularly not with someone as disreputable and disruptive as former Marion County Circuit Court Judge Vance Day, who resigned in disgrace.

Day sat on the Marion County bench from 2011 to 2018. He ceased hearing criminal cases in 2015, as the Commission on Judicial Fitness investigated ethics charges leading it to recommend his removal from office the following January.

Day resigned altogether after the Supreme Court found him guilty of “willful misconduct in violation of judicial ethics rules” in March 2018 and suspended him without pay for three years. He was barred from seeking judicial office during his suspension, but it has now lapsed.

The only thing he has going for him is notoriety. Let’s pray it won’t prove sufficient.


U.S. Senate

Since moving from the House to the Senate in January 1996, Ron Wyden has amassed a wealth of influence, and it has been proving an increasingly beneficial boon to Oregon. A graduate of Stanford University and the University of Oregon School of Law, he has come to chair the powerful Finance Committee and wield influence on the budget, taxation, intelligence and energy committees.

He figures to easily brush past a pair of political unknowns in the Democratic primary, including local civic and business community contributor William Barlow of McMinnville. The eight-member Republican field doesn’t appear to pose much realistic threat either.

On the GOP side, our nod goes to Lane County business and civic leader Darin Harbick, one of the leading fundraisers and winner of a recent party straw poll. His chief rivals appear to be Grant County Commissioner Sam Palmer of Seneca and perennial candidate gadfly Jo Rae Perkins of Albany.

We would strongly advise Republicans against supporting either Perkins, whose well-documented Q-Anon ties serve to tar the party, or Ibra Taher, who ran under the Progressive and Pacific Greens banners last time around. Taher doesn’t deserve to represent the Republican brand, and we would argue Perkins doesn’t either.


House District 23

Redistricting has put Yamhill County almost entirely within the confines of Senate District 12 and its component House districts 23 and 24. But Senate 12 isn’t up this year and neither party’s House 24 nomination is being contested in the primary.

Portland Metro-base Senate 13 and its component House 25 dip into the county’s northeastern corner, along Wilsonville Road. But they scoop up only a handful of county voters, all living far outside our circulation area.

Appointed incumbent Anna Scharf faces no opposition on the GOP side in House 23, which stretches north from its rural Polk County base far enough to lap into Newberg. Well connected and financed, she promises to prove a formidable competitor in November.

The Democratic contenders are Newberg City Councilor Elise Yarnell Hollamon and Newberg Plannning Commission Chair Kriss Wright. Both have earned their public service chops, but we give Hollamon the edge, based on a more energetic, ambitious campaign and agenda.

A clinic administrator at Providence Newberg Hospital, Hollamon touts moderation, pragmatism and team-building skills she hopes can help bridge some of the gaping divide in politics. That’s a tall order, but also a worthy goal — one we commend her for.


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