Candidates, voters look to November

Conger says he has no regrets about Senate campaign, despite outcome

By Scott Hammers / The Bulletin

Published May 22, 2014 at 12:01AM

With Tuesday’s primary election complete, the stage is set for the upcoming November election, when Central Oregon voters will choose among a variety of local candidates and cast ballots for governor, U.S. senator and statewide ballot measures that could include marijuana legalization, privatization of liquor sales and driver’s licenses for undocumented residents.

Turnout in Tuesday’s primary was similar in Central Oregon counties, with Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties clustered near 38 percent.

Republicans, Democrats and nonaffiliated or minor-party voters turned out largely in keeping with recent trends, at least in Deschutes County.

Though the number of nonaffiliated and minor party voters has surged over the past decade, and Democrats have made some progress closing the registration gap with Republicans, Republicans continued to prove themselves more reliable when it comes to filling out their ballots during primary elections. Registered Republicans accounted for 45.2 percent of ballots returned in Tuesday’s election, despite making up 36.9 percent of eligible voters. A total of 34.4 percent of ballots came from Democrats, who constitute 31.3 percent of county voters.

Nonaffiliated and minor- party voters, unable to vote in party primaries, made up just 20.4 percent of all ballots returned, despite making up 31.8 percent of Deschutes County voters.

With Jason Conger’s defeat in the Republican primary to take on U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley in the fall, the highest profile campaign undertaken by a Central Oregon resident this year has come to an end.

A two-term state representative, Conger fell short in his campaign against Portland doctor Monica Wehby. Conger won more than half the vote against Wehby and three other candidates in Deschutes and Crook counties, and ran even with Wehby in Jefferson County, but tallied just 37 percent to Wehby’s 50 percent statewide.

Conger said Wednesday that it’s too soon for him to know if he’ll seek elective office again. He said the revelation in the final days of the campaign that Wehby was the subject of stalking and harassment claims by her ex-husband and a former boyfriend came too late to shake up the race.

“It was too little, too late, and I think that — I don’t know what the percentages look like — but my guess is most of the ballots were in before the news really started to break, the sequential stories and things,” he said. “The short answer is, if the news had been out a couple of weeks ago, it would have affected the outcome. Whether it would have closed the gap, I don’t know.”

Conger said that though he was disappointed with the outcome, he has no regrets and is looking forward to winding down the campaign and returning to his law practice.

Because state law does not allow a candidate to run for two offices at the same time, Conger’s decision to run for the U.S. Senate created an opening for Knute Buehler, who won the Republican nomination for Conger’s seat Tuesday night, and will be matched against Craig Wilhelm, winner of Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

Buehler and Wilhelm will compete for a seat that largely aligns with the city limits of Bend, the only House district east of the Cascades where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans.

The biggest local race in November may be between Republican Deschutes County Commissioner Tony DeBone and Democrat Jodie Barram, currently a Bend city councilor. The three-member commission currently includes two Republicans and one Democrat, and a Barram victory would shift control to the Democrats.

In Crook County, voters’ approval of a measure to eliminate party labels for the County Court will mean the November race for one of three seats on the court will be the last of its kind. Current Commissioner Seth Crawford won the Republican nomination for his seat Tuesday and will presumably face off against Michael Shank, who mounted a late write-in campaign for the Democratic nomination.

With Jefferson County voters splitting their votes between three candidates for County Commission, the top two candidates, Mae Huston and Tom Brown, will go head to head in November.

Voters in the Bend area may also be weighing in on a pair of ballot measures that would restrict the ability of the city and Bend Park & Recreation District to take over the Mirror Pond dam or modify the pond.

Backers of the two measures are collecting signatures to place them on the November ballot. One would bar the city from taking ownership of the dam without permits to operate the dam as an updated hydroelectric generation facility or the state water right permit to operate it as a nongenerating dam; the other would block the city or the park district from spending public funds on improvements at Mirror Pond or the dam without providing for fish passage and habitat restoration.

As with local ballot measures, backers of statewide ballot measures have until late summer to qualify for the ballot. A measure to overturn a 2013 law that would have allowed undocumented residents to receive driver’s licenses has already qualified for the ballot. Advocates are also collecting signatures to qualify measures to privatize liquor retail sales and legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387, shammers@bendbulletin.com