Democratic voters in the northern and eastern portions of Portland can improve the quality of the Oregon Legislature by nominating two rising stars Ñ Tina Kotek and Ben Cannon Ñ who have the potential to shape public policy in this state for years to come.

House Districts 44 and 46 are areas of heavy Democratic registration, which means the May 16 primary is likely to decide who will represent the districts in Salem. There is no shortage of qualified candidates in the races, but we come down in favor of Kotek and Cannon based on our belief that the Legislature would profit from new points of view and fresh approaches to leadership.

House District 44: Tina Kotek

Three capable people are hoping to serve this district in North and Northeast Portland, which previously was represented by Gary Hansen. As an advocate for the Oregon Food Bank and Children First for Oregon, the 39-year-old Kotek has proven her ability to build coalitions throughout the state and in the Legislature. She has solid interpersonal skills and enough knowledge of the lawmaking process to make her immediately effective in the Legislature.

Between her two opponents Ñ Mark Kirchmeier, 53, and Jim Robison, 42 Ñ we believe Kirchmeier is a strong runner-up to Kotek. He has deep involvement in the district, relatively moderate views and an accomplished background as Hansen's legislative aide. Kirchmeier also could hit the ground running in Salem, but we believe Kotek will be a more powerful advocate for her district in the long run.

House District 46: Ben Cannon

The winnowing process for this seat Ñ which recently has been represented by the departing Steve March and includes Laurelhurst and Mount Tabor Ñ is nearly impossible.

Five competent candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination. Among them are Cindy Banzer, Lynn Partin and Mary Botkin. It's unfortunate they all live in the same district, because we could think of a few other House districts in Oregon that could use their talents.

But in our view, this race ultimately comes down to choosing between Cannon, who is a 29-year-old teacher at a private school, and the highly experienced Mary Lou Hennrich, 58, who immediately would become the Legislature's health-care expert if she's elected. Hennrich has been a school nurse, she's worked on the Oregon Health Plan, she's chaired a statewide public-health group and she's been deputy director of the Multnomah County Health Department. However, her greatest attribute Ñ her years of immersion in government processes Ñ also can be viewed as a weakness.

Oregon's Legislature needs shaking up, which would be a whimsical reason for supporting Cannon if he didn't have the rhetorical and analytical skills to make you believe he can help do it. Others have focused on Cannon's Rhodes scholarship as evidence of his intelligence, but we're more impressed by the volunteer work he's done to mobilize young voters and to study Oregon's education system. In a race where voters can't go wrong, we give Cannon a slight edge.

Other Portland Tribune endorsements

• Democrat for governor: Ted Kulongoski

• Republican for governor: Ron Saxton

• Multnomah County chair: Ted Wheeler

• Multnomah County sheriff: Bernie Giusto

• Portland city commissioner Position 2: Ginny Burdick

• Portland city commissioner Position 3: Dan Saltzman

• Metro auditor: Suzanne Flynn

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