Andrea Salinas, Theresa Kohlhoff, Joe Buck and Neil Simon were selected Monday night as the Democratic Party's four nominees to represent Oregon's House District 38.
One of them will be appointed on Sept. 13 to succeed former Rep. Ann Lininger, who was recently appointed to serve as a judge on the Clackamas County Circuit Court.
Lininger was re-elected to the seat last November, and state law mandates that the county commissioners from her district appoint a new representative to serve out the remainder of her term. House District 38 includes all of Lake Oswego and a large portion of Southwest Portland, and is geographically split between Multnomah and Clackamas Counties.
The replacement must share Lininger's political party affiliation, which is why it fell to the Clackamas and Multnomah branches of the Democratic Party of Oregon to nominate replacement candidates for county commissioners to consider.
Specifically, the decision fell to the 77 Precinct Committee Persons (PCPs) who gathered at the Multnomah Arts Center on Monday night. The PCPs are Democratic Party of Oregon members who collectively form the Central Committee of each county branch of the party.
PCPs are elected to their positions, although they can also apply and be appointed if there are vacancies. All of the Multnomah County and Clackamas County PCPs who live in House District 38 were eligible to participate in Monday's vote.
The four nominees they chose were selected from a pool of seven applicants that also included Alex Josephy, Moses Ross and Daniel Nguyen. All seven candidates spent the weeks leading up to the convention reaching out to the PCPS, both directly and through a series of public events.
One of those events was a candidate forum hosted last Thursday by the local group Independents for Progressive Action. All seven candidates attended: Lake Oswego City Councilors Kohlhoff and Buck; political consultants Salinas and Ross; public relations executive and former government spokesman Simon; restaurateur Nguyen; and Josephy, the secretary of the Democratic Party of Oregon.
In front of an audience of about 90 people, they answered questions from Moderator Peter Toll about several key state issues, including health care, education and tax reform. As Democrats, all of the candidates agreed broadly on the issues facing Oregon and the country, but some of them emphasized particular topics.
Kohlhoff presented herself as a progressive candidate. She called for large increases in funding for public transit and affordable housing, and said Democrats in Oregon need to take a strong opening position on tax reform and not "give away the whole thing from the beginning."
"The time is overdue to say out loud, loud and proud, that the wealthiest among us must pay more," she said.
Ross emphasized the role he's played in Multnomah County politics, such as his work on Multnomah County Ballot Measure 26-184 to limit campaign contributions, which voters overwhelmingly approved in November 2016. He said that as a longtime renter in Portland, he understands the impact of the housing crisis — his own rent, he said, has doubled in the past six years.
Buck focused on his own experiences in Lake Oswego, both as a city councilor and as a longtime resident and business owner. He said he feels an obligation to provide for his employees, who he said are being forced to move further and further away due to rising housing costs. He also called for increased funding for education and more action to prevent climate change.
Salinas often referenced her past work in the Legislature as a lobbyist for Democratic causes. She voiced regret over the failure of House Bill 2004 in the 2017 session, which would have banned no-cause evictions, and she also offered a strong endorsement of single-payer health care for Oregon.
"Single-payer really is the most affordable way to go," she said. "It is what everyone really needs. Health care is a right."
Simon also spoke out strongly about issues such as health care, the environment and campaign finance, often drawing on his career experience living and working in other countries. He said U.S. campaign finance laws make the country "the laughingstock of western democracies" and called for Oregon to become a model for how single-payer health care can work in America.
Josephy emphasized the need to find ways to bring legislators together from across the aisle to solve problems. He also drew on his own experiences growing up in poverty in eastern Oregon, saying he could represent a constituency that too often feels overlooked by the state's government.
"I represent many voices that don't exist in Salem," he said. "When we look towards the people making the decisions, we don't see ourselves."
Nguyen emphasized his connection to the community as the owner of a local restaurant chain, as well as his background as the child of Vietnamese refugees. He said his focus would be on fighting to "keep families together" and keep America safe for everyone.
Many of the candidates' statements and concerns were echoed at another forum held on Monday, just before the nominating convention convened, when Clackamas County Democratic Party Chair Peter Nordbye asked the candidates how they would address the needs of both parts of the district.
Multnomah County Democratic Party Chair Lurelle Robbins began Monday's convention by asking the group to vote on some of the ground rules. Much of the selection process is dictated by state law and the Democratic Party of Oregon's bylaws, but the assembled PCPs did get to decide a couple of key procedural questions, the foremost of which was whether they ought to submit three, four or five nominees to the county commissioners.
Lisa Wolf, a Multnomah PCP who also serves as the District Leader for HD38, immediately moved that the party send only three nominees. Clackamas PCP Rob Wagner objected, saying that the strength of the list of applicants warranted four nominees, and several other PCPs agreed.
But Wolf and others argued that the party ought to use the meeting to have the greatest possible impact on the selection process; submitting fewer candidates would increase the likelihood that the commissioners would pick the party's preferred nominee, she said.
"By electing four instead of three, we are diluting the power of this body," Multnomah PCP Travers Kiley told the group.
Opinions about the ideal number of nominees appeared to be divided partially along county lines. When Wolf's motion for three nominees came up for a vote, nearly every PCP who voted yes was from Multnomah — and nearly every Clackamas PCP in the room voted against the motion, which ultimately resulted in a decision to advance four nominees.
There was also considerable debate about whether to give the candidates more than the prescribed two minutes of speaking time before the vote. One of the Multnomah PCPs called for the addition of a half-hour session, during which candidates would directly answer questions from PCPs on the floor. Several of the PCPs were newly appointed, she said, and needed more time to learn about the candidates.
But other PCPs objected, saying that throwing in a Q&A session would disrupt the established and agreed-upon process. Others added that it would be difficult for the group to ensure that the questions were fair, and some pointed out that all of the candidates had been reaching out to PCPs in the proceeding weeks.
"If you're here as a voting person, you've heard everything," said one Clackamas PCP.
But another Multnomah PCP disagreed, and pointed out that both of the previous forums had featured pre-selected questions from a moderator. The PCPs had never been given an opportunity to ask the candidates direct questions in a public setting, she said.
"I do not think simply milling around (at the start of this convention) or making phone calls is enough," she said.
A motion was ultimately made to give each candidate four minutes to answer audience questions, but it failed. No other motion was offered, and Robbins said that meant the group would stick with the default rules, giving each candidate two minutes to use however they wished.
Narrowing it down
Once each of the candidates had finished formally introducing themselves, the vote for the nominees began. Because the PCPs essentially vote on behalf of the Democrats in their district, each PCP was able to vote multiple times based on the population of their county's portion of the district.
As of Monday night, Clackamas County had 11,234 registered Democrats living in House District 38 and 41 PCPs in attendance at the meeting, giving each one 274 votes. Multnomah County had 12,744 registered Democrats in House District 38 and 36 PCPs at the meeting, giving each one 354 votes.
The four nominees were chosen one at a time through a series of ballots in which the PCPs were free to divide their votes among the candidates in any way they saw fit. At the end of each round of balloting, the lowest-polling candidate — along with any candidate that received fewer than 10 percent of the votes — was removed from the following round.
The balloting continued until one candidate received at least 50 percent of the votes, thereby securing one of the four nomination spots. The process then restarted, with all the remaining candidates back on the ballot and vying for the next nomination spot.
The process took nearly two hours.
Salinas won the first nomination spot after three rounds of balloting. Kohlhoff won the second nomination spot after another three rounds, and Buck then won the third spot in a single round. Simon won the fourth spot after two rounds of balloting narrowed the final race to him and Ross.
The results now will be submitted to the Secretary of State's office for certification, and then sent to the Multnomah and Clackamas County Boards of Commissioners. State law gives the commissioners 30 days from Lininger's official departure (which happened Tuesday) to meet and vote on the final appointee, and county officials announced Wednesday that the meeting will be held on Sept. 13.
The commissioners will gather at the Lake Oswego Parks & Recreation Department's Palisades building at 1500 Greentree Road in Lake Oswego to interview the candidates and make a final decision. The meeting will begin at 2:30 p.m., and will be taped for broadcase on Clackamas County's Youtube channel and the Clackamas County Government Channel. Members of the public are also welcome to attend the meeting.
The commissioners' votes will also be adjusted to reflect the populations of the two counties within the district, although in this case it will be based on the number of registered voters rather than registered Democrats, which will give Clackamas County slightly more weight than Multnomah County.
"The county commissioners are now charged with making a decision," Robbins said at the end of the meeting, "and I would suggest that they have a very difficult decision to make."