Today, as Oregon voters begin contemplating those voting spots on their primary election ballots, they'll likely focus on the governor's primaries mostly, then some of the other major offices. Only in a few places, at this point, will there be a lot of call to focus on the legislative races.
There aren't a lot of contested primaries among the 75 legislative seats up. Republicans have primary contests for only about a fifth of them, and Democrats have contests in fewer than half that many. And most of those aren't really major races. Some are contests between little-known candidates running against an incumbent who has a strong edge either in this election or in November.
But a few of these races will merit some discussion, and may let us draw some larger conclusions, after the numbers roll in. In order or interest (not competitiveness), here are five.
1 - District 58 House, Republican: Bob Jenson v. Michael Mathisen. Two very interesting primaries in northeast Oregon, in strongly Republican country, this one and in District 57 (see below). Jenson's may be slightly more interesting because the contrast of candidates is so totally stark. Jenson is the incumbent, in fact the longest-serving House member, and though a Republican now he has been elected as a Democrat (in 1996) and an independent (in 1998) as well. Jenson's ties in the Pendleton-centered district run deep, and his politics - as his party record shows - has tended conservative but is no rigid lock. That point came to a head in the 2009 legislative session when he and District 57's Representative Greg Smith voted with Democrats for what became the Measures 66 and 67 tax increases. That drew a strong rebuke from party leadership together with explicit political punishment: A primary challenge for each of them.
Jenson's challenger, Mathisen, has lived in Hermiston just three years - a newcomer by comparison, who has gotten his key support from Salem and Portland rather than in-district. But Jenson's tax votes were a matter of controversy locally, too; and if the anti-tax crowd wants to make an example of a Republican legislator who crosses over, Jenson would be a classic case study. For Republican leadership, the risks are high: If Jenson survives, they may be exposed as toothless.
Presumption here is that he will survive the primary. But either way, there'll be some significant lessons in it.
2 - District 57 House, Republican: Greg Smith v. Colleen MacLeod. The outlines of 57 are those of 58 - Smith and Jenson made similar votes (not exactly the same; Smith voted against one proposal). Smith, like Jenson, has been elected with slight competition for some years now, and he too is well-established, maybe a little less so. His opponent, MacLeod, is a former commissioner in Union county - herself better established and with her own base of support in her district than Mathisen in his, and she's received a string of endorsements from conservative interest groups. This may be a more competitive race. But its implications are as real as in 58. (more…)