SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown will be in Bend on Monday, the home turf of Rep. Knute Buehler, the Republican who wants her job.
It’s a possible preview of next summer’s race for governor — if Buehler can win the Republican primary in May.
Brown has not announced she will run again in 2018 and is coming to Bend on official state business. Details of the two-day, five-city trip were released through the governor’s office, not her political committee.
The official reason for the stop in Bend is to ceremonially sign House Bill 2017, the $5.3 billion, 10-year statewide transportation package that supporters say will save businesses millions of dollars in getting goods to markets, while creating up to 16,000 jobs.
“This transportation package is a road map to Oregon’s future,” Brown said in a statement.
The “ceremonially” in the announcement of the trip is because Brown has already officially signed the bill, on Aug. 18, the last day allowed under state law.
Buehler declined comment on Brown, or possible primary opponents, through campaign manager, Rebecca Tweed.
Brown on Monday will showcase the plan’s $50 million in Bend-area projects and her Democratic Party surrogates can point out Buehler voted against all of them.
Buehler was among 20 Republicans in the House who voted against the bill. At the time, Buehler said he believed the projects were important, but was against the long list of new taxes and fees to pay for the projects and that items such as the electric car subsidies made it bad policy.
His vote was also a rebuke to Brown, who had held closed-door meetings with leaders of both chambers and both parties to try to rescue what had originally been a $10 billion package.
The slimmed-down version passed the House and Senate. Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, voted for the bill, as did House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte.
McLane confirmed late Wednesday that he was mulling over overtures from conservative Republican activist to get into the governor’s primary against Buehler.
Conservative activists who opposed having Buehler, a pro-choice Republican, as the party’s candidate in 2018 approached McLane about running as an alternative to Buehler in the May 2018 primary.
McLane was in Gleneden Beach on Thursday, where he spoke to the annual convention of the The Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council. The group represents more than 25,000 construction workers around the state.
McLane said good public policy would only come when Democrats allowed Republicans their rightful place at the bargaining table.
“All too often in Oregon, the only negotiations going on are between the left wing and the really, really left wing,” McLane told the convention, according to a statement from the House Republican leadership office.
GOP conservatives are looking for a high-profile name to get into the primary as an alternative to Buehler, who is a self-described “pro-choice, pro-gender equality” Republican.
Secretary of State Dennis Richardson had been approached, but said Wednesday he would not run for governor in 2018.
He ran unsuccessfully for the state’s top job in 2014 and had said he was keeping his options open about 2018. His election as Secretary of State was the first Republican win in a race for a statewide office in over a decade. Richardson said Wednesday that he would forgo the governor’s race and concentrate on his new current job.
Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer has created a campaign finance committee and brought in Lori Piercy as treasurer, a role Piercy has played in several Republican and conservative political campaigns.
Brown appears to have a clear shot to run in 2018, with Democratic Party chair Jeanne Atkins saying she had heard of no other Democratic officeholder who planned to enter the governor’s primary.
That leaves Brown free to focus on Buehler, while Buehler concentrates on Brown while looking over his shoulder to see who else might run.
Brown’s active fundraising and emails to supporters suggesting Buehler and other Republican candidates are “Trumps-in-training” show Buehler and Bend are very much on her mind. The city has more registered Democrats than Republicans and voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton over President Trump, though Trump narrowly won Deschutes County.
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