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Minthorn Takes Aim At State Senate

Daily Astorian

Antone Minthorn built a career as leader of the Umatilla Indian Reservation on two key principles: have a purpose to help your community and never give up. He now aims to take those principles to the Oregon Senate.

Minthorn, 77, former chairman of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, won the Democratic nomination for Senate District 29. He ran a write-in campaign in the May 15 primary. Official results from Oregon Secretary of State Elections Division show Minthorn received 322 votes throughout the district that encompasses Gilliam, Sherman, Morrow, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties and half of Wasco County. All other write-in candidates combined received 347 votes.

Minthorn now faces Republican Bill Hansell in the run to the general election on Nov. 6.

Minthorn, during an interview Friday, said he has built an economy, helped create jobs and worked with different groups to achieve mutually beneficial goals while he was leader of the tribes.

“I have the broad range of experiences,” Minthorn said, that would serve him in the Senate.

Looking through the district, he said, jobs and the economy are the most important issues. While there are obstacles to growth, Minthorn said he sees opportunities also, particularly in the notion of a “conservation economy” — ways to harvest the economic wealth of an area’s natural resources while ensuring a high quality of life. Minthorn is a board member of Ecotrust, a Portland-based organization that seeks to help communities along the West Coast build those economies.

Already, Minthorn said, Umatilla County has been home to such an effort. The Umatilla River Basin Project has allowed irrigators to take water during high flow times and keep water in the river for salmon. Making that a reality took years of consensus building with farmers, natural resource advocates, the tribes and others.

“It’s been a win-win-win,” he said.

Tom Powers is the executive director of the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund, the caucus campaign arm aimed at helping Democrats running for state Senate. He and Minthorn have spoken, he said, and have another meeting scheduled, but at this point the candidate is in the initial planning stages of his campaign.

The fund aims to make sure Democrats are doing what they need to win elections, Powers said, so it helps candidates understand best campaign practices and provides access to voting lists and to donors in the district. The leadership also helps facilitate communication between candidates and possible donors.

And when key races get down to the nitty-gritty, Powers said, the fund’s executive team will make strategic decisions on who to contribute money to. It’s too early in the campaign, though, he said, to say if Minthorn will be one of those candidates.

But Powers said Minthorn has a shot in the district. He and Hansell are well known in Umatilla County, but perhaps not as well known outside their home base. Voters will be able to get to know both candidates, he said.

Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats, 43.4 percent to 28.2 percent in District 29. All told, 61,208 are registered to vote in the district: 26,548 of them Republicans and 17,244 Democrats.

Hansell, a 29-year Umatilla County commissioner, raised more than $80,000 prior to the May 15 primary and spent $77,000 to defeat challenger Maryl G. Featherstone with 61 percent of the vote to Featherstone’s 39 percent. Since the primary, Hansell has reported about $6,000 in contributions, including $2,000 from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.  

Minthorn said he’s in the process of putting together his campaign team and a strategy for the race. And he can’t do this alone. He said he’ll go after smart people who know more than he does about key issues. That’s the kind of team, he said, that’s essential for getting positive results.

Contact Phil Wright at or 541-966-0833.

This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.

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