It's hard to imagine, in these Tea Party times, a guy with a political history like John Kitzhaber's having a chance to win a major elected office. As a Democratic state senator in the '80s, he authored Oregon's government-funded health plan; later, as governor from 1995 to 2003, he expanded the plan, got more funding for higher education, implemented a plan to save salmon and took a strong position on managing growth through land-use laws. But this is Oregon, land of liberals and libertarians with a bit of FDR-style populist socialism tossed in. After all, just this January, voters passed initiatives raising taxes on the rich and on corporate profits.
HCN's Guide to Western Elections
Kitzhaber wants to be governor again. But Chris Dudley, a charismatic former pro-basketball player, has a good chance of claiming the office for Republicans after more than two decades of Democratic control.
Oregon is one of the few states to see virtually no Tea Party influence during the primaries, and both candidates have platforms that are more moderate and pragmatic than ideologically extreme. Dudley's entire platform is hinged on lowering the current 11 percent unemployment rate via tax cuts, relaxing land-use laws and the like. Kitzhaber, a physician, has put a lot of emphasis on reforming health care. Environmentalists and unions have endorsed Kitzhaber; Dudley has been helped out by big campaign contributions from Phil Knight, founder of Nike.
In other prominent races, it looks like Democrats will keep their control of Oregon's West Coast congressional districts. And Democrat Ron Wyden should have no problem holding onto his Senate seat.
Feel-good ballot measures Using marijuana for medical purposes is already legal in Oregon. If a new measure passes, it will allow farmers to be licensed with the state to grow and distribute marijuana. Voters will also decide whether to make permanent a law that funnels 15 percent of lottery proceeds to parks, beaches, wildlife habitat and watershed protection.