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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Jayne: Oregon election offers lessons

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published: May 22, 2022, 6:02am

What do we know? What did we learn? Should we care?

Oregon held a primary election Tuesday, choosing candidates for the November ballot. And while there is a striking difference between how our neighbor to the south handles its primary and how we do it in Washington, there might some lessons to be gleaned.

“I’m sure that if Tina Kotek wins there’s going to be tolls on the bridge,” professor Jim Moore said. “I’m equally sure that if either of the other two win, there won’t be tolls.”

Wait! What? That certainly is newsworthy for Southwest Washington voters. With talk of a replacement Interstate 5 Bridge dominating the landscape in these parts, any news about the project can lead to teeth-gnashing and knuckle-cracking.

Of course, Moore’s statement isn’t news; it’s simply a prediction. But coming from the director of political outreach at Pacific University’s Tom McCall Center for Civic Engagement and coming from the most astute — or at least the most frequently interviewed — political observer in these parts, it carries some weight.

Kotek, who spent a decade as Oregon’s speaker of the House, won the 15-candidate Democratic primary with 57 percent of the vote. Christine Drazan won the 19-person Republican primary with 23 percent. And Betsy Johnson, a former legislator, is expected to be on the ballot as the rare Independent who has a chance to win.

So, if Moore is prescient, Washington voters have reason to pay attention to the Oregon gubernatorial election come November.

But I didn’t call him to talk about the I-5 Bridge or tolls or downtown Vancouver, which popped up during the conversation. No, I called to talk about politics, and about the bizarro universe inhabited by both political parties.

Democrats are in a fight between their moderate wing and their progressive wing. To put it in human terms, Joe Biden is a moderate Democrat; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a progressive. One is establishment, while the other wants to tear some things down and start over.

Republicans are in a fight between their moderate wing and their Trumpian wing. One is establishment, while the other invents its own truth and attempts to overthrow the government.

Those are simplistic explanations, of course. But they help describe the underlying battles that occur in primaries.

“The soul of the Democratic Party in Oregon definitely is in the progressive wing rather than the moderate,” Moore said. “Republicans? Boy it’s hard to make a call there because there were so many of them in the primary.”

In Oregon, unlike some states, it doesn’t pay to run as a Trump Republican. “I’m convinced you can’t win a statewide race,” Moore said.

The same goes for Washington. Trump received 39 percent of the state’s vote in the 2020 election, and nobody is as Trumpian as Donald Trump; the others are pale imitations.

Oregon and Washington tend be cut from a similar political cloth (Trump, for example, received 40 percent of the Oregon vote in 2020). But it is difficult to develop predictions for our August primary from the Oregon results.

That is because Oregon still has an archaic closed primary, with only Republicans voting for Republican nominees and Democrats doing the same on their side. Washington has a more-enlightened open primary, with voters able to support members of either party and with the top two candidates advancing to the general election, regardless of party.

Because of that, we could have two Republicans in the general election for Congressional representative from the 3rd District. Jaime Herrera Beutler is an entrenched incumbent, and Joe Kent has generated the most attention among the challengers.

That can change in the next three months, but Kent is hoping that being the Trumpiest of local candidates will serve him well.

“It’s basically going to be the Trump vs. the non-Trump,” Moore said. “It’s largely going to be a referendum on her.”

That sounds complicated. Maybe we should just stick to talking about the bridge.