OR SecSt: On tellin ’em apart

Brad Avakian

Brad Avakian

Kate Brown

Kate Brown

Rick Metsger

Rick Metsger

Vicki Walker

Vicki Walker

The rapid accumulation of Democratic candidates for Oregon secretary of state has left even some Democrats a little scattered . . . The PDX Perspectives blog has been running a list of comments about telling the four apart, and how to to pick out preferences.

It grew out of a kind of cry for help: “what is that, four mostly indistinguishable liberal Democrats? . . . I promise I am going to spend some time trying to figure this out myself, based on looking at their web sites and at their news coverage, but in the meanwhile, can somebody out there please help me with a clue as to what the substantive differences are between Brad Avakian, Kate Brown, Rick Metsger, and Vicki Walker? And how would those differences translate into the way they would do this job?”

The latter question is the tougher one; the four are distinctively different personalities with sharply different approaches, and are likely to develop very different appeals. What any of that would mean for running the office isn’t clear at all. (The eventual arrival of a Republican candidate for the office – Senator Bruce Starr has been mentioned as a possible – may help bring some clarity.)

The four Democratic senators – Brad Avakian of Beaverton, Kate Brown of Portland, Rick Metsger of Welches and Vicki Walker of Eugene – all come from the northwest part of the state, but slapping much more common definition to them is a little iffy.

Two of them have been central in the Senate Democratic caucus – Brown was Democratic leader (majority and minority both) for about a decade, and Avakian has been assistant majority leader. Metsger, representing a more rural area (far eastern Multnomah and Clackamas, and newly-Democratic Hood River County) has been a but more independent in tone. And Walker may be Salem’s premier boat-rocker, to the point that she came close a year ago to challenging Governor Ted Kulongoski in the Democratic primary (they appear to have since reconciled), not to mention her pivotal role in the Neil Goldschmidt exposure. Watch the Senate and its committees in action for a while, and all four stand out as highly distinctive personalities in the chamber.

To what extent do you want a “team player” or an “independent boat rocker”? You can make a case for either; each type is represented, in different ways.

The may be shaped a bit too by the districts they’re from. Brown is from one of the most liberal Democratic districts around Portland (you don’t get “too liberal” for re-election there), but what you see most in Brown is a kind of happy enthusiasm. Avakian comes from an area in Washington County that is now clearly Democratic, but newly so; he is an attorney, and you pick up a professional deliberation in his approach. Walker’s Eugene district is basically Democratic, but stronger that way in reputation than in voting patterns – not close to Brown’s and probably softer than Avakian’s. (A strong opponent last year, former Eugene Mayor Jim Torry, held her to a close win.) And Metsger’s district, while trending Democratic, may be the softest of the four. Walker and Metsger both convey the sense of populism more than Brown or Avakian seem to.

These points have implications. Some commenters at PDX Perspectives point to Metsger’s three-win record in a once-problematic district as evidence of statewide political strength. Another argues: “He does it by taking some Republican positions, like making the DMV into the INS. Since Oregon is not a legislative district, I see no need to elect someone to bring the state rightward. How about stronger Democrats, instead?” There’s going to be some room for debate here.

A few early thoughts, anyway, about sorting the contenders. More will no doubt sprout as the campaigns grow.

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