It’s been about eight months since the November 2016 general election.
It’s about eight months until the May 2018 primary election.
For the third time in a little over four years, Oregon voters will be asked to pick candidates for governor. The names will be very familiar, particularly to those casting ballots in Central Oregon.
This is a thought that perhaps thrills only the hearts of we die-hard political junkies, but get used to it — gubernatorial fatigue is not covered, with or without Obamacare. So, embrace the election fever because the symptoms — ads, fundraising, partisan bickering — will come on whether you like it or not.
Kate and Knute
Kate Brown will likely be making her third run for statewide office in six years, including twice in just two years. To recap: Brown was elected secretary of state in 2012. In February 2015, Brown replaced resigning Gov. John Kitzhaber as the state’s chief executive.
In 2016, she ran and won the rest of Kitzhaber’s term. In 2018, she would have to run again — for her own four-year term.
Knute Buehler will have run three times in six years if all goes as planned. The Bend Republican lost to Brown in 2012, won a seat in the House in 2014, was re-elected in 2016 and will likely run again in 2018. But for what?
There is likely a very limited market for science fiction about an alternative history of state politics in 2012-18, but to understand what is going on, let’s play anyway.
Knute Buehler can’t help but play “what ifs” in his head. If he had beat Kate Brown in 2012, he would be Oregon’s 38th governor today.
As Secretary of State, Buehler would have been in line to replace Gov. John Kitzhaber when he resigned in February 2015 in the midst of an influence peddling scandal involving his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes. But one of the reasons Kitzhaber agreed to depart so swiftly after his November 2014 re-election was that Brown, a Democrat, was in line to take his place. Kitzhaber has said since then that he might have been too hasty, especially now that both federal and state prosecutors have decided not to charge him or Hayes, with any crimes.
Would Kitzhaber have stuck around longer if he knew his departure would give his job to a Republican? Remember, Oregon is the only state out of 50 that does not allow for impeachment of a state officeholder. Even if he did, Buehler would have had to run for the rest of Kitzhaber’s term in November 2016. With their Salem dominance at stake, Democrats might have prevailed on one of their big D.C. guns — Sen. Ron Wyden or Sen. Jeff Merkley — to come back and unseat the Republican usurper. Could Buehler have won anyway?
Other GOP hopefuls
Back to reality. Buehler seems to have had “likely candidate for governor in 2018” permanently appended to his name for at least the past year. All things being equal, Salem political leaders in both parties speculate that Buehler would likely take the plunge in 2018, especially if Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, the only GOP statewide officeholder, decided to stand pat and not risk seeming to over-reach by again running for office so soon.
But things aren’t equal. Brown has a big fundraising lead and likely won’t face a serious challenge in the Democratic primary. Buehler would face at least one Republican who has already announced for governor: Lori Chavez-DeRemer, the mayor of the Portland suburb of Happy Valley. There will likely be more. Being the Republican standard bearer in a state where President Donald Trump is unpopular could be a drag on the GOP gubernatorial candidate.
Reasons why …
Even some key Democrats say that Brown would have been an unlikely governor had it not been for the constitution and Kitzhaber. Dennis Richardson’s victory in the Secretary of State race as a Republican shows that voters are not “blindly blue” when it comes to statewide candidates. Buehler could end up with an upset win to become governor, giving the GOP a powerful new place at the state’s political table. He would also pull the political gravity away from Portland and give rapidly growing Central Oregon a voice at the very top of state government.
… and why not
If Buehler runs and loses, he would have to give up his House seat. Democrats have a voter registration majority in the district, and Democrats need to pick up only one House seat to have a supermajority capable of passing tax increases without Republican assistance. He could be the guy who not only lost the top of the ticket race, but opened the door for Democrats to take total control of the House. If Democrats pick up the one Senate seat they are short of a supermajority in that chamber, as the name at the top of the ticket, Buehler could end up being blamed for that, too. What to do? Stay tuned.
Waiting for the Trump tweet
Buehler isn’t the only one who has to factor in the mercurial president when considering their political future.
Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte is waiting to hear whether President Donald Trump will name him U.S. attorney for Oregon. Rep. McLane would have to give up his seat if he is Trump’s pick. McLane’s departure would also mean a reshuffle of the power structure in the Salem — he’s minority leader of the House.
Gone either way
Another Central Oregon House member is calling it quits, no matter what Trump decides. Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles is seeking an appointment as the Trump administration’s Agriculture Department representative in Oregon. Like McLane, Huffman is still waiting to hear if the president will bring him on board his team. Unlike McLane, Huffman has said he will not run for re-election, no matter what, in 2018.
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