Experts say practice is common

The May 20 election results show former Gresham police chief Carla Piluso, the Gresham-Barlow School District vice-chairwoman, the clear winner for the Democratic nomination for House District 50.

As of May 22, Piluso garnered more than 81 percent of the votes, or 2,265, to Beatrice Cochran’s 477 votes, or more than 17 percent.Carla Piluso

Piluso said she was pleased with the results of the primary.

“I love this community so I’m honored to have the support of the Gresham voters,” she said, noting her potential legislative priorities include public safety and education.

A popular figure in East County, Piluso was expected to win, and most observers consider her the odds-on favorite to win the November election.

As it stands, her only potential opponent on the Republican side is fellow school board member Dan Chriestenson, who ran as a write-in candidate for the Republican nomination.Dan Chriestenson

As of May 22, elections officials had not confirmed any Republican write-in candidates as winners in District 50. Yet apparently at least some of Piluso’s supporters wanted insurance she would face no opposition in the November general election.

In an amusing — or perhaps unsettling — twist (depending upon party affiliation), Piluso also may emerge as the Republican nominee for the same election.

Prior to the May 20 ballot deadline residents living in District 50 received a postcard asking them to write in Piluso’s name for the Republican nomination. The postcard originated from the Oregon Education Association — the state teachers union.

One recipient of the postcard, Christopher Alsop — a music teacher in the Gresham-Barlow School District as well as a Republican — was angered by the mailer.

“When I received the postcard I immediately felt it was a dirty political trick to thwart the political process,” Alsop said. “A Democrat who has already run on the Democratic ticket should not also choose to try to trick Republicans who happen to have name recognition into voting for her.”

For her part, Piluso said she did not solicit the OEA effort but did not object to it and was aware that supporters were going to do it.

“What I’ve learned is it’s a pretty common practice, not an unusual strategy,” she said.

Piluso has historical precedent to back up her observation. John Kroger in 2008 won the Democratic primary for attorney general and also received the most write-in votes from Republicans, said Tony Green, spokesman for the Oregon Secretary of State.

“It is a strategy typically employed by candidates when no one from the opposition party filed for office,” he said. “If you are successful, it precludes the other party from getting someone on the ballot in November.”

County elections officials have 20 days to certify the results, or up until June 9, he added. Whoever garners the most write-in votes is then asked to accept the party’s nomination and if he or she does, appears on the November general election ballot, Green said.

According to at least one GOP activist, asking folks to cross party lines in a write-in contest is not uncommon.

Shawn Cleave, executive director of the political action committee Promote Oregon who works as chief of staff for the Oregon House GOP caucus, said both parties are aligned with interest groups that sometimes ask voters to write in the names of candidates in the other parties’ ballot lines.

“Strategically it makes a lot of sense to do that,” he said. “It will save Democrats a lot of money to push for Piluso as a Republican write-in in that district. It’s not surprising they’ll do everything in their power to keep a (high) quality candidate like Dan Chriestenson off the ballot. Over the next few days, as write-in ballots are counted, we’ll know if the people from East County will have a choice to make in November, or if the OEA’s efforts will take the opportunity to choose away from the voters.”

Rhett Hyman, elementary school co-president of the Gresham-Barlow Education Association, the district’s teachers union, said it was the state union, not the local, that decided to solicit write-in votes for Piluso.

“The OEA is committed to supporting pro-public education candidates regardless of political party,” he said. “Since no Republican candidate filed for office in either House District 49 or House District 50, the OEA wanted to make sure that our Republican members knew they had an option to support an OEA recommended, pro-public education candidate, Carla, regardless of their party affiliation.”

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