This year's senate race presents an easy choice. The incumbent, Democrat Jeff Merkley, seeks a second term against a challenge from Republican Monica Wehby, a physician who is seeking her first elective office. First-term senators are rather like fourth sons of reigning monarchs: they bear imposing titles and get respect in public, but aren't expected to accomplish very much. It's sufficient for them to select one or two issues on which to seek the public's attention while they learn their way around the nation's capital.
Shortly after arriving in Washington, Senator Merkley found an issue: the financial crisis that hit in 2009 and its effect on Wall Street, the large banks, and the rest of America. He and Senator Carl Levin proposed an amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act to add the "Volcker Rule," a rule that would have barred traditional banks (i.e., banks that the federal government insures, including those that the feds think are too big to be allowed to fail) from engaging in certain risky investments. The bill to which the Merkley-Levin amendment was attached did not become law, but the text of their amendment was attached to another bill and in a slightly different form became law. (It's also noteworthy that this was known as the Merkley-Levin amendment and not as the Levin-Merkley amendment because Sen. Levin joined the Senate 30 years before Sen. Merkley did.) In several different ways since then, Sen. Merkley has continued to press for some fairness in the banking and tax system.
The Oregonian rightly rejected Dr. Wehby as a candidate -- she and her campaign both imploded and the race effectively ended weeks ago. The Whimperer called Sen. Merkley "smart, thoughtful, certainly well-intentioned [and] even right at times," but declined to endorse him either, apparently (as far as I can tell) because he sometimes disagrees with Senator Wyden and wants to raise the cap on Social Security income taxes to fund higher benefits for old people. The Oregonian correctly notes that in his first six years in the Senate Sen. Merkley has not solved any major problems. Neither have the other 99. He is off on the right track, however, and has earned a second term. You may, as I will, vote to re-elect Sen. Merkley.
The real puzzle this year is the Governor's race. John Kitzhaber, the incumbent Democrat, seeks a fourth term against Republican challenger Dennis Richardson, a six-term state representative from southern Oregon whose legislative experience has included extensive work on Oregon's budgets. Rep. Richardson started his campaign several years ago with an extensive outreach program (I landed on his mailing list for reasons I still haven't fathomed), and he's run a competent campaign since then. Where he has fallen short is on policy: when pressed in debate he retreats to platitudes instead of specifics, and he's awkwardly navigating the narrow and sometimes negative space between the social policy views of the conservatives who nominated him and the moderates whose votes he needs to win. On policy grounds I would favor Governor Kitzhaber for a fourth term, albeit with serious reservations about his expensive lapses on Cover Oregon and the Columbia River Crossing.
To quote Ian Fleming, however: "But, but, but, and again but!" The stream of revelations about the contracts of the Governor's fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, with entities that seek favors from the State of Oregon concerns me. I have the same worries that I would have about our nation's energy policy if (say) Michelle Obama accepted a seat on the board of Exxon. That tips the scale for me against voting for Dr. Kitzhaber. The Pamplin newspapers also concluded that neither major party candidate in the Governor's race deserves support. They recommended that Democrats write in Ted Wheeler and Republicans write in Allen Alley.
I don't plan to write in a non-candidate; the governorship should be reserved for people foolish enough to want to serve. I intend to cast my vote, with some hesitation, for Chris Henry of the Oregon Progressive Party. If you feel as I do about Gov. Kitzhaber and Rep. Richardson, I recommend a vote for the minor party candidate with whom you are most closely aligned. For Tea Party conservatives, that's likely Aaron Auer of the Constitution Party. More traditional conservatives can vote for Libertarian Paul Grad. Those to the left of Isaac have Jason Levin of the Pacific Green Party available on the ballot.