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Intriguing campaign season opens


It’s election time, and that means it’s time to partner up! The partisan lines have now been drawn, and most of the legislators representing our region of the state will have opponents in the 2014 election cycle.

Regardless of whether we like and support a particular candidate, we believe it is good for the voters and healthy for our system of government when legislators are required to explain and/or defend their votes and the philosophies they’ve espoused while in Salem. Having a competitive contest ensures there will be a healthy airing of different ideas.

Our corner of Washington County is served primarily by five legislators, including state Sens. Bruce Starr (R) and Betsy Johnson (D), and state Reps. Ben Unger (D), Joe Gallegos (D) and John Davis (R). But on the evening of March 11, representation in Washington County was hit by a political earthquake when Unger made a last-minute move to exit the race, citing demands on his time from work and family responsibilities. With Unger out, fellow Democrat Susan McLain — a Glencoe High School teacher and former Metro councilor — stepped in, apparently at Unger’s urging, so the Democrats would not forfeit a legislative seat. McLain filed with just about 10 minutes to spare before the 5 p.m. deadline.

We suspect there is more to this story than meets the eye. Unger was solid in his first term in the Oregon Legislature. He seemed popular, and his priorities were in tune with the wishes of most House District 29 voters. His work on behalf of the district, in particular on education issues, will be missed.

The deadline for candidates to file to run for a particular office came Tuesday, March 11, and, in addition to McLain, there were other late entries. One was in Senate District 15, where Hillsboro resident and former state Rep. Chuck Riley — who also ran against Starr in 2010 — decided to make another attempt to capture the district’s Senate seat.

It could be a tight race. Starr won in 2010 by a relatively narrow 52 percent to 47 percent. With the district generally perceived to be trending more toward the Democratic Party in recent years, and despite Starr’s overall popularity, his moderate stances and his demonstrated ability to work in a bipartisan manner, Starr cannot afford to take anything for granted.

This should be a very interesting contest between two experienced, politically-savvy candidates.

Not being able to take anything for granted also holds true in the races for the Oregon House of Representatives. Joe Gallegos, a freshman Democrat elected in 2012, and McLain both have Republican opponents. Newcomer McLain will compete against Mark Richman, a deputy district attorney with Washington County. Gallegos, a champion of providing scholarships to low-income students and those who are the first of their family to attend college, will go up against Dan Mason, who works for Prime Group, a management company for apartment communities across the western United States.

Generally, legislators are deemed to be most vulnerable in their first re-election campaign, when their name recognition in the district has not yet had time to gel and their base of power has not yet solidified. So we were not a bit surprised the Republicans found a challenger to Gallegos or that the Democratic Party found a challenger to take on freshman Republican John Davis. Although he resides in Wilsonville, Davis represents a wedge of land from southeast Hillsboro to the western area of Aloha. On the final day to file, Eric Squires of Aloha — coordinator of the Hillsboro Empowers Youth organization — signed up to challenge Davis.

But we were surprised that as of late Tuesday, Republicans had not mounted a challenge to incumbent Sen. Betsy Johnson of Warren, who represents an area that includes Banks and wraps around to portions of Forest Grove and other areas of northwest Washington County. Johnson will be unopposed in 2014, and as a result, voters will not have as much of an opportunity to engage in an open political discourse in this district.

Now that the lineups are finally set, we hope and expect to see some public forums in which the opposing candidates meet face to face to debate and answer questions from groups of voters. We’ll be there to cover these events, and we’ll be interested in following the trail of money behind these campaigns.

All in all, with four of the area’s five legislative races being contested, it should prove to be an enlightening spring, summer and fall as these campaigns go forward.