By editorial board • 

Anna Scharf in House 23, Victoria Ernst in House 24

For the first time in recent memory, both rural House districts shared by Polk and Yamhill counties have drawn highly capable and qualified candidates.

July 2021 appointee Anna Scharf represents a massive upgrade in House 23 from  expelled predecessor Mike Nearman, who assisted angry protesters in breaching Capitol security, sparring with police and endangering colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

Sharf’s extensive prior experience as a legislative lobbyist, aide and policy analyst, the 18-month head start she got as a GOP appointee, and her experience helping run one of the region’s larger farming operations, give her a big leg up. She has already pre-filed 23 bills for the 2023 session, and expects to line up bipartisan support for all but one or two. 

Scharf knows her way around the Capitol as well as anyone. She’s a smooth operator who knows how to get things done, even on a playing field leaning heavily Democratic. 

Her opponent, Newberg Planning Commissioner Kriss Wright, has been skipping joint appearances and declined to interview for our endorsement. That suggests she won’t be mounting much of a campaign.

Former McMinnville Police Chief Ron Noble, a Republican moderate who earned strong endorsements from us in his two legislative runs and a subsequent congressional run, will be a tough act for anyone to follow in House 24. However, we think human rights lawyer Victoria Ernst, a Democrat from a five-generation farm family rooted in St. Paul, has what it takes.

Ernst is running what she dubs “a family and friends campaign” out of her McMinnville residence, as redistricting has shifted the district from plus-one Democratic to plus-six Republican, persuading her party to largely invest its time, energy and money elsewhere.

But plus-six pales in comparison to the plus-nine GOP tilt of neighboring House 23, and she’s mounting a Herculean effort. It would be hard for anyone to match the pace she’s setting.

After graduating from Newberg High and the University of Oregon, Ernst served as an AmeriCorps paralegal in Montana Indian Country, then earned her law degree from American University in Washington, D.C., and began serving as a legal adviser to the International Law Commission, an arm of the United Nations.

Both candidates pursued the Independent Party nomination and Ernst prevailed. But she’s facing an uphill battle against McMinnville businesswoman Lucetta Elmer, who’s getting advice and support from the GOP’s campaign arm at every step.

Ernst has been traveling the district day and night to steep herself in local issues. She’s been knocking on doors, maintaining a heavy schedule of appearances, and meeting with police chiefs, fire chiefs, mayors and other community leaders.

Her endeavors have given her an impressive command of local constituent and community concerns. She has fleshed that out with an in-depth study of state issues, particularly those figuring to come into play in the legislative arena.

If elected, one of Ernst’s overriding aims is representing the rural perspective, which she feels has been getting short shrift for far too long in a legislative body dominated by urban interests.

She said in her Ballotpedia questionnaire, “We need solutions to issues like access to justice, affordable housing, homelessness and environmental protection that are equitable and take into account the unique circumstances of rural communities.” 

Elmer is taking a more cautious approach. She has been largely avoiding specifics, saying first-term representatives have to learn the ropes before they plunge into policymaking.

She has, however, identified areas of particular interest that build on her strengths — business and education, particularly early childhood education.

She grew up on a farm near Willamina and whetted her appetite for business by assuming payroll responsibility for her dad’s timber business while still in her teens. After graduating from Linfield with a degree in education, she launched a private Christian school, married high school sweetheart Denny Elmer and started a family.

They have developed an extensive portfolio of business interests, both in McMinnville and other parts of the state, and she has held leadership posts in the chamber and other business organizations. 

However, Elmer does not display the fluency on issues of the quick study Ernst, let alone the old pro Scharf. She asks us to trust she will get up to speed on the job.

She is also relying as heavily on her party to carry her as anyone we’ve encountered this campaign cycle. That wasn’t the case with Noble, an independent thinker adept at crossing party lines to get things done.

If she prevails, we wish Elmer every success. However, we feel Ernst is well ahead in command of the issues and ability to operate outside party constraints, thus represents the better investment.


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