Thursday was the official political opening day in Oregon.
After months of rumors and announcements, the secretary of state officially opened the window for candidates to file to run for office in 2022.
Governor. U.S. Senator. Judges. District attorneys. Yamhill County Commissioner. A chance for incumbents and the politically ambitious to sign up for just about everything.
"Filings will start showing up on our website as they get approved and can be seen on our website under 'Who’s Running for Office?',” Carla Axtman, communications director for Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said Wednesday in advance of the next day's opening.
The first day has often been seen as a chance for candidates to throw down their marker first, a show of confidence to scare off potential challengers sitting on the fence over whether to run or not.
Former Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, filed on Sept. 7, 2017 — the first possible day — to run for governor in 2018. He followed up with an early fundraising blitz that left any primary challengers hustling to catch up. He won the primary and went on to run in the most expensive governor's race in state history, eventually losing to incumbent Gov. Kate Brown.
Despite expectations of a possible crowded field of candidates vying to run for the governor's seat that Brown has to vacate due to term limits, there were three candidates who filed on the first day, none among the political high-flyers rumored to be in the mix for the state's top job. Retired textile company operator Wilson Bright and customer care representative Michael Trimble — both Portland Democrats — and White City chiropractor Amber Richardson, a Republican, could claim the front of the race at least for a day.
There would be no Buehlers this year to make a big splash. It's a different time and a different race.
While the election might say "go," political reality and yet another disruption in life caused by COVID-19 resulted in something short of a stampede.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, has announced he will run for another six-year term. House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, wants to make the jump to the governor's job. Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Val Hoyle has nixed rumors she will run for governor and wants another four years in her current job.
None signed up on Thursday.
By 5 p.m., the site listed just 19 people filed: three candidates for governor, six candidates for district attorney of various counties, six running for circuit judgeships, two for commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries, and two Republicans who signed up for the race to face Wyden, Prineville Mayor Jason Beebe and Jo Rae Perkins of Albany, the unsuccessful GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in 2020.
None of the biggest names who have either announced for office or are in the political rumor mills had officially jumped in.
So …what exactly happened?
On the official state Election Calendar, it was the first day to file to run for office in the May 2022 primaries. But in some ways the races started long ago and won't have a final field for several months.
The 60 House and 30 Senate seats are on hold until long-delayed maps can be approved to show candidates and voters exactly where they are running or voting. That could happen as early as late this month or as late as early next year.
And Oregon's six — up from five — congressional seats are also on hold until maps are available, even though the U.S. Constitution doesn't require members of Congress to be residents of their district, just the state.
Some candidates are in no hurry. The closing deadline is 180 days away, on March 8, 2022. For every Buehler who jumps in early to get an initial burst of attention and campaign money, there are many stories of candidates who waited until right before the deadline for a different kind of surprise, lulling opponents into thinking they have the race to themselves then signing up.
The official candidate sign-up sheet is also only one of the ways candidates can test the waters for 2022. Dozens of potential candidates have a running start by filing to create campaign finance committees even before officially entering a race. Incumbents can wait to file updated "amendments" and those already in office looking to switch to a different race can often take all or most of their stored campaign cash with them when amending their fundraising statements.
Already, 71 candidates for various offices have created candidate political action committees to gather cash for a 2022 race.
While the secretary of state may not be allowing candidates for the House and Senate to sign up for a specific district, candidates who want to take a guess can sign up to raise funds for a specific district, then switch when the final maps are approved by the Oregon Supreme Court.
Candidates for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House have to sign up to run with the state, but that is pretty much it. Fundraising is governed by the Federal Elections Commission. All five current incumbents — four Democrats and one Republican — have committees, as have several potential challengers. Add in the U.S. Senate and more than 20 federal campaign finance committees for seats representing Oregon in Washington are trolling for dollars.
One of the ironies of Thursday's deadline is that the most notable news wasn't the fifteen lesser-known candidates who said they were running, but one who said he wasn't.
Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, the former conservative talk show host turned House member, said he wouldn't be making a bid for a return to office next year.
"I don’t believe the writers of our Oregon Constitution intended for 'citizen legislators' to stay in office for years and years but rather, to let the next citizen step up and serve," Post said in announcing his "retirement" from office.
There's likely to be a sizable list of people looking to step up to fill Post's spot if and when there is a seat with a district on a map to actually run for.