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OR: The legislative primaries; seven picks

The primary season in Oregon this year has its real points of interest toward the top of the ballot – Democratic presidential, Democratic Senate, both parties in the 5th U.S. House district. But less so down ballot.

There are some notable city and county races; the Portland mayor’s office could be decided in this primary (there’s a growing sense that businessman Sho Donozo‘s one-time balloon has burst and Councilor Sam Adams, rising steadily, with good media and heavily endorsed, just might clear the 50% mark in the primary despite the multiplicity of candidates). On the legislative front . . . not so much.

The differences between a lot of these legislative candidates are subtle and stylistic more than on policy. (You probably could say that about Adams and Donozo, too, if Donozo’s views were expressed more clearly.)

There aren’t even all that many legislative primaries: 19 in total, for 75 legislative seats on the ballot with potential for 150 ballot slots. And some of those look, simply, minor, contests in which one candidate clearly will roll over the other. (See for example, in District 4, veteran incumbent Republican Representative Dennis Richardson against Ronald Schutz, a retiree whose political background seems to consist one failed run for the Grants Pass City Council.)

Let’s take a quick look at the contested legislative primaries in Oregon this year, the 10 Democratic and nine Republican (two each in the Senate, the rest in the House:



9 – D – Bob McDonald, Steven Frank
9 – R – Sarah Arcune, Herman Joseph Baurer, Fred Girod*
23 – D – Jackie Dingfelder, Sean Cruz [D open seat, Gordly]
27 – R – Chris Telfer, John Robbins [D open seat, Westlund]


2 – R – Jim Fox, Tim Freeman [R open seat, Morgan]
4 – R – Dennis Richardson*, Ronald Schutz
7 – D – Nick McKibbin, Donald Nordin
17 – R – Bruce Cuff, Cliff Wooten, Marc Lucca, Sherrie Sprenger*
23 – D – Jason Brown, Wesley West [R open seat, Boquist]
23 – R – Jim Thompson, Craig Pope [R open seat, Boquist]
24 – R – Jim Weidner, Ed Glad, Jim Bunn [R open seat, Nelson]
38 – D – Linda Brown, Chris Garrett [D open seat, Macpherson]
42 – D – Jules Kopel-Bailey, Teddy Keizer, Gordon Hillesland, Regan Felice Gray [D open seat, Rosenbaum]
45 – D – Michael Dembrow, Cyreena Boston, John Coney [D open seat, Dingfelder]
49 – D – Nick Kahl, Barbara Kyle [R open seat, Minnis]
52 – D – Suzanne Van Orman, Steve Richkind
52 – R – Matt Lindland, Phyllis Thiemann [R open seat, Smith]
58 – D – Ben Talley, Barbara Ann Wright
60 – R -Tim K. Smith, Cliff Bentz*

Of these, let’s look at seven that seem most likely to generate some kind of interest or another.

bullet 17 – R – Bruce Cuff [a real estate site, but listed on Orestar], Cliff Wooten, Marc Lucca, Sherrie Sprenger

Are you conservative enough? And what does that mean, anyway? Sherrie Sprenger, a small telecom business operator and former sheriff’s deputy who was appointed to the House seat earlier this year, offered this as a definition : “One gentleman piped up and said we want to live here in freedom and dignity. That stuck with me, and I am beginning to use that as a filter for how I look at issues and how they affect people in this district. It’s not a platform for issues, but it’s a foundation for what is important.” How that differs from most candidates – either Republicans or Democrats – isn’t very clear. And that (and not in particular her record in this year’s session, which seems to have generated marginal controversy) seems to be what has motivated her three primary opponents into the race. Cuff is a real estate broker who once lobbied the legislature for the Oregon Association of Evangelicals. Lucca has been a Polk County Republican chair and a former staffer for several Republican legislators. (His web site touts, “Principled. Conservative. Experienced.” Note the order.) Wooten is a Linn County commissioner (and of the group most emphasizes his resume as a voting rationale).

bullet 24 – R – Jim Weidner, Ed Glad, Jim Bunn

Three very distinctive candidates
running here, and there’s a fair chance any of them could win: Bunn – a former U.S. representative – is best known, but he entered at the last minute and the other two seem to have been outworking him. Bunn, who also served terms in the state legislature, was elected to Congress at a financial disadvantage but in the Republican sweep year of 1994, and (after something of a scandal involving a divorce and subsequent marriage to his chief of staff) lost the seat two years later, and for most of the last decade has been working at the Yamhill County Jail. (Okay, to be clear: As an employee of the sheriff’s department, not as an inmate.) He’s most-known (he has a fair number of campaign signs around the county) but is his background more hurt than help? Weidner has been picking up strong alliances on the social conservative side; Ed Glad (though not far from the others philosophically, and pro-life and anti-gay marriage) has political organizing and work background, but through the carpenters union of which he’s a member and has been a lobbyist; he will attract those who might be called the pragmatics. Glad has the endorsement of the main local paper, the McMinnville News-Register. Our guess is that in a low-turnout Republican primary, Weidner will pull ahead. But this is not an entirely predictable race.

bullet 49 – D – Nick Kahl, Barbara Kyle

This one could be of significance, because this East Multnomah seat is going to be hotly contested. Part of that is psychological: This is the seat Republican former House Speaker Karen Minnis is retiring from, and Republicans seeking to keep down Democratic numbers in the House have got to retain it. They have an apparently solid candidate in John Nelsen, but the district has been shifting Democratic. Kahl has much stronger labor backing; Kyle (who has been on the Troutdale city council) was recruited by Democratic organizers. Kahl is said to have run much the more energetic race, and got editorial endorsements from the Oregonian and Willamette Week. We’ll figure him to take the primary. Would he be the stronger in this district? He’d run the stronger campaign, probably; how the district would react to it, as as opposed to Nelsen, is a tougher read.

bullet 23 Sen – D – Jackie Dingfelder, Sean Cruz

As in many of these primary districts, issues here aren’t distinctly philosophical: The 23rd is a solidly liberal Democratic district, and both contenders fit well within that framework. But they are insiders of two distinctly different stripes. Dingfelder, a four-term state representative from this area, would have to be considered the establishment choice, getting the larger share of key endorsements and contributions (and editorial endorsements, including the Oregonian and Willamette Week). But Cruz is not an outsider, either; he is retiring Senator Avel Gordly‘s chief of staff, is well informed, has her support and the support of her backers. His campaign has hit rough patches but may also be more interesting to some of the primary voters. Cruz is edgier; Dingfelder more easy-going. You have to figure the edge is with Dingfelder, but bear in mind that central Portland doesn’t always go the conventional route.

bullet 60 – R –Tim K. Smith, Cliff Bentz

The roots of this Republican primary go to veteran Representative Tom Butler‘s resignation early this year, and the race for appointment to the position. Bentz of Ontario (an attorney highly active in civic matters in Malheur County for some years) got the appointment, and Smith , a geologist at Hines, was one of the other contenders. Both have strong interest in resource issues, especially water rights (the subject of some back and forth). But we’ll be interested to see the geographic break out of the votes: Butler, who also was from Ontario, held down this seat for a decade. Will other parts of the district demand theirs?

bullet 9 – R – Sarah Arcune, Herman Joseph Baurer, Fred Girod

All right, the question is: What kind of vote will Girod, just appointed to this senate seat, draw? Last cycle, he was a late appointee to the Republican tcket, but still won with a convincing 59%. Against two opponents (who aren’t even represented in the voter guide), you’d expect him to win; the margin will be watchable.

bullet 9 – D – Bob McDonald, Steven Frank

Either of these guys will have a hard time winning in the fall; this is a tough district. Makes this list because they come off so differently: Frank, a Stayton Cty Council member (and ironically the elected official of the two) coming off like a grassroots insurgent, and McDonald as “your family doctor in the Senate,” a physician whose big issue is health care, but also deeply involved for years in community activities – but also a late entrant to the race. Two distinctly different directions (and both credible candidates) which should say a good deal about what Democrats in the 9th are thinking.

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