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Election reveals clear contrasts

Our Opinion

Tuesday's primary election results strongly suggest that the upcoming battle for who leads Oregon and the Metro region will be defined by clear contrasts.

Oregonians are at great odds on how they think this state is faring - and, as a result, who should lead it.

In a recent statewide poll conducted by the Portland Tribune, Community Newspapers, Oregon Public Broadcasting and Fox 12 television, 52 percent of Democrats surveyed said Oregon is headed in the right direction, while 71 percent of Republicans surveyed said the state is on the wrong track.

Such contrasting opinions and confidence were displayed in Tuesday's primary voting as Democrats chose former Gov. John Kitzhaber and Republicans selected former Portland Trail Blazer Chris Dudley, a political newcomer. In our mind, the race for governor should be defined by much more than age, political experience, party registration or athletic skills.

Kitzhaber will tout that he has the experience to lead Oregon once more. Dudley will counter that the state needs fresh leadership and a completely new start.

We think Oregonians would be best served by state government dramatically changing and instituting a long-term strategy and priorities for public programs and a long-term plan for how much the state spends and taxes. It's past time for Oregon to abandon its two-year, crisis-prone cycle of deciding public strategies and finances.

Who is best qualified to lead change and achieve opportunity is up for grabs. Kitzhaber must tout more than his experience, and Dudley must offer more than a fresh approach and generalized principles. It is time for an articulated vision, prioritized outcomes and a defined long-term public service and finance strategy.

Big differences for Metro

In the Portland area, the campaign for Metro Council president is also about contrasts - and relevancy. Former Hillsboro Mayor Tom Hughes and former 1000 Friends of Oregon Executive Director Bob Stacey will compete in a November runoff election. Hughes took 37 percent of Tuesday's vote; Stacey, 35 percent; and Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder, 28 percent.

Hughes and Stacey differ in their views on how Metro should guide the future of the region in areas such as land use and transportation. Both agree that Metro has a role in aiding regional economic development. Yet they disagree on how to best do that. These candidates not only will compete against each other this fall, but both also will be challenged by citizens' lack of knowledge about Metro.

Tuesday's election underscores the problem as a vast number of primary election voters didn't make a choice in this race. In Multnomah County, 24 percent of voters left the Metro race blank. Interest was even lower in Clackamas County, where 53.8 percent of voters skipped the race, and in Washington County where the undervote was 34.9 percent. And that was in an election where 59 percent of registered voters chose not to participate.

What's next for the city?

Another potential contrast arises in Portland with the overwhelming re-election of City Commissioners Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman. The results may demonstrate that Portland voters are satisfied with City Hall. But will it be business as usual on the City Council? And will there be hard feelings between Saltzman and Mayor Sam Adams, following Adams' decision last week to strip Saltzman of his job as police commissioner and terminate Police Chief Rosie Sizer?

Tuesday's election should also initiate discussion about the future of publicly financed campaigns. Only one candidate, Jesse Cornett, qualified for the $150,000 provided from the city's campaign fund. Yet, Cornett captured only 8 percent of the vote, compared with the 12 percent earned by challenger Mary Volm and 56 percent recorded by Saltzman - both of whom gathered campaign contributions independently.

We hope these and many other sharp contrasts revealed by the election will move Oregon forward by increasing candidates' engagement with voters and providing relevant connections between government and citizens.