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Three statewide contests are drawing lots of attention



In about three weeks, local mail carriers will deliver ballots to more than 2.5 million Oregon voters.

Given all the attention being given to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, many will be surprised to find that there are hundreds of other contests being decided on Nov. 8 throughout the state. In Multnomah County, for example, some voters will be asked to decide on two-dozen questions, ranging from who should be the “leader of the free world” to whether their city should tax recreational marijuana.

Some are being vigorously contested. Others are foregone conclusions.

To help voters make informed decisions, the Portland Tribune and the Pamplin Media Group, will provide you the best local election coverage.

Today, we’re focusing on the three hottest statewide races. In two weeks, we’ll cover all the big issues you’ll be voting on. We’ll wrap up with a recap of our picks in key contests just before ballots are due.

Governor

• Candidates: Kate Brown (D) and Bud Pierce (R)

• What’s interesting: Oregon’s line of succession made former Secretary of State Kate Brown “emergency governor” in February 2015, when Gov. John Kitzhaber stepped down amid an influence-peddling scandal. Nov. 8 will be the Democrat’s first bid at election to the state’s highest office — an office she was widely expected to seek, but not until 2018. Republicans have been locked out of the governor’s office since 1982, and initial polls suggest Pierce, a political newbie and Salem oncologist, may lack the momentum to oust Brown.

But in a year when the presidential race is defying conventional wisdom, Democrats are nervous. Pierce defeated his better-known opponent, former Republican Party Chairman Allen Alley, in the May primary with a largely self-funded campaign. He and Brown differ on policy issues largely along party lines and are on opposite sides of a battle over Measure 97, a corporate sales tax measure on November’s ballot (see below). Brown has endorsed the measure, with reservations, while Pierce vehemently opposes it.

This election will decide who gets to complete the last two years of Kitzhaber’s four-year term. The winner will have to start campaigning again almost immediately if he or she want to keep the job past 2018.

• What to look for: Concrete policy proposals. Brown has set broad goals for the governor’s office in the next two years to boost the high school graduation rate, help small businesses, protect the environment and pass a transportation package, but has offered few details on how she plans to accomplish those goals.

Secretary of State

• Candidates: Dennis Richardson (R) and Brad Avakian (D)

• What’s interesting: The main responsibilities of Oregon’s second-highest office are narrowly defined: sitting on the State Land Board, maintaining a register of state corporations, and overseeing elections and audits of state agencies.

Both candidates say they’d bring new ideas to the office. Richardson, a former state legislator, would like the Corporations Division to become a help center for businesses. Avakian has much bigger plans. If elected, he’d use the secretary of state’s office to advance renewable energy policy, audit private companies doing business with the state, and promote civics education in public schools.

Richardson (a Republican in a Democratic state) says Avakian is advancing a partisan agenda. Avakian, who is the current state labor commissioner, replies that his opponent is running away from his socially conservative stance as he tries to become the first Republican elected to statewide office in 14 years.

Whoever wins is likely to use the office as a pit stop. Avakian ran for Congress in 2011, losing to Suzanne Bonamici in the Democratic primary, and Richardson lost to John Kitzhaber in the 2014 gubernatorial election. Either would love to see the abbreviation “Gov.” in front of their name.

• What to watch for: The race may be up for grabs. An iCitizen poll last month showed Avakian outpacing Richardson by only about three points (the poll had a 4-point margin of error) with 36 percent of respondents undecided.

Measure 97

• Measure levies a 2.5 percent “gross receipts” tax on certain corporations’ Oregon sales exceeding $25 million.

• What’s interesting: How much will Measure 97 affect consumers? That question is central to a debate over this corporate sales tax measure. The tax would generate an estimated $3 billion a year in additional revenue and wipe out a projected shortfall of $1.35 billion in 2017-19 to maintain existing state services. Proponents argue that surveys show tax increases have a minimal effect on prices. But according to an estimate by the nonpartisan Legislative Revenue Office, businesses would pass on the tax hike and the typical Oregon family would pay an additional $600 a year in the form of higher prices and lost job opportunities.

• What to look for: Do Oregon businesses pay enough taxes? Proponents and opponents of Measure 97 don’t agree on much and definitely not on this. You’ll hear both sides cite studies related to the state’s “business tax burden,” “corporate tax burden,” and corporate tax revenue per capita. They are three different things. Supporters argue that the state has the nation’s lowest “business tax burden,” a calculation that includes factors beyond the category of corporate taxes affected by Measure 97. Opponents point to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan group, which says Oregon ranks 26th for the amount of corporate tax revenue paid per capita.

Election Coverage

Today: Focus on competitive contests

Oct. 20: Pamplin Media Group Voters Guide

Nov. 4: Recap of our endorsements

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