Editorial: Give Conger the GOP nomination

Published May 1, 2014 at 12:01AM

Bend attorney Jason Conger has proved himself an effective lawmaker in his two terms in the Oregon Legislature, digging into the details of complex issues and learning how to represent his constituents’ interests.

Portland neurosurgeon Monica Wehby doubtless knows a lot about brain surgery, but her grasp of political issues beyond health care is limited, and she has no experience in the complex give-and-take of lawmaking.

Nevertheless, the national GOP has decided Wehby, 51, has a better chance to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and has poured money and other support into her primary campaign. Her appeal is apparently based on being a woman from the populous Portland area, being a doctor who opposes the Affordable Care Act, and being more moderate than Conger on social issues.

While we disagree with Conger, 46, on some of those issues, we appreciate his courage of conviction, taking clear-cut positions as opposed to Wehby’s convoluted statements. Speaking to our editorial board, for example, she used lots of words to describe a pro-choice position on abortion, but declined to accept that label.

Far more important to us, though, is that a U.S. senator spends little, if any, time on those issues. They’re a campaign distraction, relatively unimportant in representing Oregon’s concerns in the nation’s capital. Oregonians have a bigger stake in forest management and other natural resource issues, job creation and regulatory reform.

During his years as a state representative, Conger dug deep into the details of public pensions and worked for reform. He engaged with local school boards and helped bring significant improvement to K-12 funding from the Legislature. For higher education, he championed the effort to expand the graduate program at Oregon State University-Cascades Campus. He helped defend the charitable tax deduction and the ability of students to transfer out of their home districts. His efforts in these and other areas won widespread admiration and support.

Conger disputes the contention that a conservative can’t win in Oregon, noting that Gordon Smith’s loss to Merkley in 2008 was influenced by the unusual impact of Barack Obama’s candidacy. Recent polling also challenges the idea that Wehby is a stronger challenger than Conger. Although Merkley has a strong lead over either Republican, some polls show Conger several points closer than Wehby.

Three other candidates are competing for the nomination: Mark Callahan, 36, of Salem; Timothy Crawley, 31, of Portland; and Joe Rae Perkins, 57, of Albany. After interviewing them all, we concluded Conger and Wehby were the only contenders for our endorsement.

In Bend, voters have demonstrated their understanding of Conger’s capacities and contributions, electing him to the state Legislature from a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans. We urge GOP voters statewide to follow their example and give him their nomination to challenge Merkley.