State Attorney General Democratic primary, Dwight Holton

A lawyer leaving Sunday's Pacific University forum featuring the two Democrats vying for state Attorney General was asked what he thought: 'I'm really glad I came,' he said. 'Because it's now clear to me regardless of who wins this, we'll be in good shape.'

We agree.

Ellen Rosenblum and Dwight Holton have spent the past four months trying to get an edge in a low-key, high-stakes contest for the state's top lawyer. Since no Republicans filed for the GOP primary, the winner of the May 15 Democratic primary is likely to get the job, possibly as soon as this summer. (The Republican Party is making a belated effort to qualify attorney James Buchal for the November ballot by running a write-in campaign in the primary.)

As for Rosenblum and Holton, both are seasoned lawyers whose confident-yet-calm temperaments seem well-suited for the job. Both are progressive Democrats who would champion civil rights, strengthen consumer protections and go after parents who don't pony up child support.

Holton, a former U.S. Attorney for Oregon, gets our nod because of his proven record at running a large legal office with similar functions. Holton came to the U.S. Attorney's office in 2004 and got the top job in 2010. He held it for 18 months, until last fall, when President Obama's pick for the post, Amanda Marshall, took over.

While in that office, he won praise for his administrative skills and his leadership into probing the conduct of Portland police officers.

Taking over an attorney general's office with 1,200 employees and seven divisions would be a stretch for him, but not an unreasonable one.

Our concern with Holton is his close alliance with the incumbent, John Kroger, whose meteoric political ascent ended with a crash and burn. Kroger is stepping down for undisclosed health reasons (which won't prevent him for taking over as Reed College president) but not before a series of damaging political and professional blunders.

Holton's reluctance to distance himself from Kroger is understandable, however, as the two men remain friends. And in public forums and discussions with our editorial board members, he made it clear that he thought Kroger erred in a variety of ways, from his disbanding of an elder abuse task force to his mishandling of an effort to close loopholes in the state's public records law.

While some criticize the 46-year-old Holton for being ambitious, we admire the trait. It wasn't Kroger's ambitions that got him in trouble - it was his lack of administrative skill and political acumen. Neither should be a problem for Holton.

If Holton weren't such a strong candidate, we'd have no trouble backing his opponent. The 61-year-old Rosenblum would be the first woman to serve as Attorney General, but that's certainly not her primary qualification. Since moving to Oregon in 1975, she's amassed an impressive resume, first in private practice, then as an assistant U.S. attorney and as a judge for 23 years, the last six on the state Court of Appeals. She's served on numerous professional panels at the state and national level and would bring a breadth of experience to the post.

Rosenblum can talk credibly about her ability to develop the skills needed to run a large public agency, but Holton has already demonstrated that he's up to the task.

That's why in a race with two good candidates, we encourage voters to support Dwight Holton for Oregon attorney general.

1st Congressional District Republican primary, Delinda Morgan

This is a spring of discontent for Republican voters in Oregon. The wild GOP presidential primary petered out just before coming to our state, the party failed to put up a candidate in the Attorney General race and in the First Congressional District, which six months ago was predicted to be a national battleground, now looks more like a Democratic playground.

After Democrat Suzanne Bonamici dispatched Republican Rob Cornilles in the hard-fought special election in January, the fight went out of the GOP. Neither of the two women running in the primary have a chance of beating Bonamici in the fall and only one of them, Delinda Morgan, shows any promise as a candidate.

Morgan, who owns a winery outside Gaston, has never held public office, has had little community involvement and maintains a thin grasp of the complex array of issues facing a member of Congress.

Still, she's a better choice than Lisa Michaels, a radio advertising consultant who made a weak showing against Cornilles in last year's GOP primary. She's back, pushing a Tea Party agenda and dismissing global climate change as 'a scam.'

State House District 29 Democratic Primary, Ben Unger

For Democrats in western Washington County, the primary in State House District 29 presents a clear choice.

Katie Riley and Ben Unger don't disagree on any major issues. But in experience and temperament, Unger has the edge.

Riley, who lost to Republican Katie Eyre in 2010, is running again for a seat long held by her husband, Chuck. As we said two years ago, the 70-year-old Riley has 19 years of community involvement in the district and an impressive background in public health which would be an asset in Salem. But, as in 2010, she failed to show any indication that she'd bring much more than a party-line vote to a legislature desperate for creative, bipartisan problem-solving.

Unger, by contrast, is a fresh face. The 37-year-old HillHi grad grew up in Cornelius on his family's farm, picking berries and driving a tractor. He was drawn into politics by changes in land-use laws that he felt threatened his family's livelihood. He was a key strategist in the successful 2007 campaign to pass Measure 49 and a year later helped elect Attorney General John Kroger.

Those statewide campaigns allowed Unger to forge relationships across Oregon that would come in handy if he ends up in the statehouse.

We're particularly excited about Unger's rural roots. If elected, he says he'd be the only member of the legislature to have grown up on a farm. His understanding of agricultural realities combined with his environmental sensibilities could go a long way in diffusing the farm vs. city mentality that often clouds policy discussions in Salem, particularly within the Democratic caucus.

And, while Riley's answers to questions are measured and predictable, Unger is animated talking about the issues facing the state and the learning curve he'd need to negotiate.

He speaks passionately about the need for the state to help homeowners facing foreclosures and provide adequate school funding while still recognizing that a teaching model which works in Beaverton may not fly in Banks.

The work-ethic he developed on the farm has shown in this campaign, where he has knocked on thousands of doors. Those traits give him the edge in this Democratic primary.

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