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What to watch for

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This column first appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle on December 29.

In 2022 many of Oregon’s biggest stories will be political: A new governor, two new members of Congress (the first change there in a decade) and more.

What those changes look like, whether simply of personality or of wholesale direction, may flow from some of the other developments we see in the months ahead.

Where is Covid-19 headed, for example?

The clock struck 2022 on an ominous pandemic note, with a new variant faster-spreading than any before it. Covid-19 is marching on with no obvious end in sight.

Oregon is one of the best states for suppressing per capita infections, and hospitalizations have dropped in recent months even with the new omicron surge. That has happened partly because masking and vaccination regimes go on, surely into the primary election season and maybe into the general election as well, even if sweeping lockdowns do not. The anger on one side about any restrictions, and the anger on the other side about those protesters, is likely to continue and maybe grow. How will people react to this on their ballots?

The early months of this year may see a U.S. Supreme Court decision dramatically changing the rules on abortion, and most states probably will see a legislative – and maybe ballot issue – response to that. Oregon’s response may end up being little change in the current state laws, but the debate likely to erupt this spring may spin off many side effects.

The last couple of years have been challenging in other ways. As many people – around the country, and many around the state – view their largest city, Portland has become not just weird but ungovernable, hazardous, even (some will say) a burned-out, razed-to-the-ground shell. Last January an economist from Lake Oswego, Bill Conerly, wrote in Forbes magazine, that in Portland “continued violence and vandalism have combined with high housing costs, homelessness and poor community leadership to raise the question: how long before this city dies?” Some reality: Portland is not dying, and it doesn’t resemble the caricature its critics are so quick to employ. But image and perception are important. What will Portland’s leaders do in coming months to change that – and ease back some of the city’s real problems, in public safety, housing and elsewhere? It will be an election subtext.

So might the Greater Idaho movement, which plays off antipathy to PDX. An actual state boundary change isn’t in the cards – the barriers are too high – but the movement does provide a visible (and maybe substantive) counterbalance to the Portland metro sensibility. If the secessionists are able to achieve some visibility in the coming legislative session, what effect might that have on the elections ahead?

The legislature too, albeit operating in a short session, could affect the campaign seasons ahead. It may have done some of that already in its quick December session, passing emergency rental assistance and drought and law enforcement assistance as well, a package balanced between metro and rural areas. If the upcoming session continues along that balanced line – if it does – a cooling effect could be felt in Oregon politics.

There are some other reasons a cooling off could happen. Oregon’s economy, for one example, has been faring well.

The new congressional and legislative maps for the next decade are set now, but there’s a chance here too for decompression: Another run at the proposal that this state do what most of its neighbors have in creating a bipartisan redistricting commission. This year – shortly after the old plan is done and well ahead of the next one – would be the ideal time for action on it, and the best chance for its advocates.

This still leaves the question of how Oregon politics will develop in its most pivotal year for more than a decade.

The answers are not obvious.

As the year begins, the probability is that the governor’s office once again (as it has every time since 1982) will go to the Democratic nominee. But there are plausible scenarios to the contrary, and you can develop reasonable arguments for any of at least three Democratic contenders winning the nomination. (Sounds like a future column …)

The holders of Oregon’s fifth and sixth district U.S. House seats are a far from settled question as well.

Whoever they are, they’ll have to run against the backdrop of Oregon, a place perceived as mired in frustrating times or making its way toward sunnier days. The battle between those perspectives will likely tell us what kind of headlines we see in 2022.
 

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