The envelope opener in the Clackamas County Elections Office broke on Tuesday, delaying processing of ballots.
That was a fitting metaphor for Election 2020 — heck, for all of 2020, a year that seems governed by Murphy’s Law that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.
But the ballot counting has gone on, in Clackamas and the other counties, and the outcomes have been … well, unsurprising. Our state remains as divided as any time in recent memory. Democrats dominate, except where they don’t.
Still, here are eight post-election questions.
1. Will Oregon’s political gap keep widening?
Democrats won all the statewide offices on the Nov. 3 ballot and also re-elected their four congressional incumbents, solidifying the divide established in May’s primary election.
In May, Democrats chose state Sen. Shemia Fagan of Portland as their nominee for secretary of state over more-moderate candidates. In the sprawling 2nd Congressional District, Republicans picked state Sen. Cliff Bentz of Ontario as their nominee over Knute Buehler of Bend, who previously had run for governor as a moderate. Bentz will succeed Greg Walden as the sole Republican in Oregon’s congressional delegation.
Fagan was a late replacement for Jennifer Williamson, who dropped out amid questions regarding her campaign finances, but won election this week with the strong backing of labor unions.
Fagan is every bit as liberal as Gov. Kate Brown, perhaps even more so, and is a polarizing figure in the state Senate. Sen. Fred Girod of Lyons, now the Senate Republican leader, famously asked to be taken off the Senate Housing Committee in 2019 because of Fagan’s actions as committee chair.
Republicans dislike Brown politically. But now they may hope that she forgoes any job opportunity, such as in a potential Joe Biden presidential administration, that would cause her to resign as governor and automatically elevate Fagan to that office.
In another sign of the continued partisan divide, one of the most-moderate Republican legislators lost her re-election bid, succumbing to Bend's becoming increasingly blue. After a bitter campaign, Rep. Cheri Helt was ousted by Democrat Jason Kropf.
2. Who will run the Legislature?
Democrats. But which Democrats?
In the Senate, the Democrats’ liberal wing was solidified by Tuesday’s election, which means moderate Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, finally could be on his way out. Or Courtney could make the necessary concessions to stay in power.
Both he and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, have held their respective leadership positions longer than anyone else in Oregon history. Unlike Courtney, Kotek is unafraid to wield an iron fist. Despite rankling some moderates, she mostly has retained the support backing of her fellow liberals.
One question will be whether moderate lawmakers can have an impact in the 2021 Legislature. In September, Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene, launched a bicameral, bipartisan discussion group to cross political lines. The participants meet via Zoom, with one Democrat and one Republican together leading each discussion topic. The Sept. 30 meeting brought together 12 House members and five senators — 11 Democrats and six Republicans. They talked about campaign finance reform, police reform, broadband and community connectivity, and emergency management.
During the summer’s special sessions, Wilde challenged his party leadership by calling for greater transparency and public discussion of issues. As he told me in an email this week, “I’d like to make sure we don’t lose our values in favor of expediency.”
3. How long will political parties – especially the GOP – remain relevant?
Oregon’s “motor voter” registration system has succeeded in swelling the ranks of new voters, many of whom choose to forgo any party affiliation. Of Oregon’s nearly 3 million voters, just 25.8% are Republicans, and 35.7% are Democrats.
Nationally, Republicans did better this week than predicted, especially in U.S. House and Senate races. Yet in Oregon, it was more of the same. Pollster John Horvick has suggested that to rebound in Oregon, the Republican Party must take a different approach than in other states.
By the way, the 2021 Oregon Senate will now include Art Robinson of Cave Junction, who chaired the Oregon Republican Party during 2013-14 and was the unsuccessful Republican nominee against 4th District Congressman Peter DeFazio in 2010, ’12, ’14, ’16 and ’18. Robinson won the legislative seat being vacated by Sen. Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass.
4. What’s next for Alek Skarlatos?
The national pundits were wrong in 2018 when they suggested Republican Buehler had a good chance of toppling of toppling Democratic Gov. Brown. She won by 6.4 percentage points.
The pundits were wrong again about Alek Skarlatos of Roseburg, who now has lost races for Douglas County commissioner and for the 4th Congressional District. In this election, DeFazio defeated him by 5.32 percentage points.
5. What is Portland’s future?
In what might surprise Oregonians elsewhere, Portland voters rejected the opportunity to elect the most-liberal city council in their history. Embattled Ted Wheeler kept his job as mayor and incumbent City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly was ousted. Area voters also struck back at “big government” by trashing Metro’s proposed payroll tax to raise billions of dollars for transportation projects.
Chances are that these are only minor hitches in Portland’s progressive tilt. But what will Wheeler’s political and personal turmoil mean for his future in Oregon government? The former state treasurer had been viewed as a likely Democratic candidate for governor.
6. Did Portland’s image help President Donald Trump?
Trump campaigned on a law-and-order platform in parts of the U.S. Whether overblown or not, pictures of violent protests in Portland made the news across America.
In an election year that has yielded countless subjects for research and doctoral dissertations, it will be intriguing to see if anyone examines whether coverage of the Portland protests contributed to pro-Trump votes in other states. In contrast, Oregon was reliably in the Democratic column regardless of what happened in Portland.
7. Will Oregon finally invest in drug treatment for the long-term?
Measure 110, which passed handily, decriminalizes small amounts of drug possession and mandates the establishment of drug treatment centers. The measure will fund these programs through marijuana taxes and the expected savings in law enforcement and prison costs resulting from fewer drug arrests.
The potential return on investment makes sense: Paying for drug treatment, even if needed again and again, is less expensive and generally more effective than sending someone to prison. The catch is that whenever budgets run tight, governments cut front-end investments like drug treatment to pay for core services, like police and prisons. Although Measure 110 contains a nifty formula for determining the prison savings that should be redirected to drug treatment, the Legislature could always fiddle with the funding.
8. Who placed pro-Measure 108 signs on the Oregon Capitol grounds?
I have no idea, but it was disappointing to see the lawn signs along Willson Park when I drove by on Election Day. Political signs – regardless of cause or party – are blatantly illegal on public property. Got it?