We are just days from Tuesday’s Oregon primary and early turnout results suggest most voters probably haven’t cast their ballots. But there are a number of important races being decided. So OPB news director Anna Griffin joined Jenn Chávez to review details last-minute voters may want to keep in mind.
Jenn Chávez: So let’s just dive right in then. One of the most important races on this ballot is for governor. What choices are voters looking at here?
Anna Griffin: So let’s start with a little background. Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, cannot seek reelection because of term limits. So Democratic and Republican voters will select nominees for the November general election.
On the Democratic side, the two most prominent candidates, both in terms of fundraising and the vibrancy of their campaigns are former House Speaker Tina Kotek and State Treasurer Tobias Read. The big question for voters in this race is essentially what flavor of Oregon progressive you prefer.
Kotek was the longest-serving speaker in Oregon history. She’s responsible for a lot in that time, raising the minimum wage, eliminating single-family zoning, a new business tax for education, paid sick time. She also gained a reputation for using the power of her office to push through progressive policies, sometimes in ways that left other lawmakers feeling bruised. Decide for yourself whether you think there’s a little bit of inherent sexism in that critique.
Tobias Read is portraying himself as a slightly more moderate, business-friendly, conciliatory alternative. He has also done a lot as treasurer. He improved the state’s college saving plan, implemented a retirement program for workers who don’t have one at their workplace and maintained pretty high returns on state pension investments. It’s all really wonky stuff, hard to translate to voters. He has gone after Kotek hard on homelessness in Portland. His argument — you’ve been in charge for years — why haven’t you fixed this yet?
Chávez: OK, so what about the Republican side?
Griffin: There are a whopping 19 candidates in that race. So it is really hard to predict what’s going to happen next week. But among the biggest contenders, we can kind of talk about three groups.
There are candidates running very hard to the right, clearly aiming to attract supporters of President Donald Trump, denying Joe Biden won the presidential race, really making this campaign about cultural wedge issues such as abortion, transgender rights, antifa in Portland. That group would include Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam, consultant and writer Bridget Barton.
Then there’s a group of, kind of more mainstream big-name Republicans, who are trying to attract conservative voters, but also trying to ensure they’re not too far right to win a general election. So for example, they say the things that you would expect a Republican candidate in a primary to say about abortion or how race is taught in schools, but they also acknowledge that Joe Biden is in fact president. That group would include former Republican leader Christine Drazan, Salem oncologist Bud Pierce.
Finally, you have Jessica Gomez, who is a southern Oregon business owner, really running as an old school, almost Rockefeller Republican, fiscally conservative, but more moderate on social issues, to the point that she called herself pro-choice in a recent debate.
Chávez: Got it. OK, so plenty of choices for voters in that race. Meanwhile, voters in Portland will also pick two members of the City Council, including Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty’s seat. Two years ago, her reelection seemed certain, but now she’s in quite a race. What has changed?
Griffin: Where do we even start with what has changed over the last two years, Jenn? Just in Portland, we have seen a huge political shift since 2020. Back then, it was the summer of our nation’s racial reckoning. There were real conversations about defunding police.
Since then, we’ve seen a spike in gun violence and homelessness, and kind of quality of life problems, graffiti, trash vandalism. It has many Portlanders down on city government and, in particular, has people with the money to influence elections — we’re talking about people in the real estate community, downtown business owners — very frustrated with Hardesty in particular.
Two candidates have emerged in this race, both running, if not from the right, then the center: Vadim Mozyrsky and Rene Gonzalez. The business community has set up a political action committee that is spending big to help Mozyrsky. He’s an administrative law judge. Gonzalez is a lawyer who owns a software business and he has won a number of the more notable endorsements, including from the editorial board of The Oregonian. Both Gonzalez and Mozyrsky say Portland needs to get serious about enforcing camping laws, cleaning up the streets, giving police both more resources and more moral support.
Meanwhile, Hardesty has done exactly what she said she was going to do when she became the first Black woman elected to the City Council. First and foremost, pushed for a lot more civilian oversight of police. The question is whether you like that or not.
Chávez: So what other races will you be watching on election night?
Griffin: A bunch. We have two open congressional seats.
We have a race in the 5th Congressional District, Congressman Kurt Schrader faces a very serious challenge from the left from Jamie McLeod-Skinner. Democrats in that district have been very divided on his role as a member of a very influential group of more conservative Democrats in the House.
And Oregon voters are going to select a new labor commissioner. That’s a nonpartisan office, so it’s on everyone’s ballot. It’s not a job a lot of people are paying attention to. But the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries plays a role in almost every aspect of workplace life.
Chávez: And again, early turnout shows us that a lot of Oregonians have not voted yet. Is there anything else people who haven’t filled out their ballot should know?
Griffin: First, vote. Your ballot is in that pile of unopened mail somewhere. If you’re in Multnomah County, know that the ballot, the envelope looks a little different this year. It’s an odd shape compared to what you’re used to. Also know half the counties in the state got rid of those secrecy sleeves you used to have to put your ballot in before returning it. The deadlines are also different. You can still drop off your ballot at any official county election drop by 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
Related: Election 2022: OPB's Ballot Guide
But here’s the big change: You can also still mail it. It is not too late. Usually this time in an election cycle we’re telling you, don’t mail your ballot, don’t mail your ballot. Well, you can now. Ballots postmarked by May 17 will be counted. That change means results in closer races may take longer, since some of these contests, we’re not going to know the winner on election night.
Chávez: Got it. Well, Anna, thank you so much for this ballot study session.
Griffin: My pleasure, Jenn.