Oregon's Ballot is a Microcosm of Messy National Politics

Weed! Obamacare! Equal rights! The Koch Brothers! In this month’s off-year election, Oregon mirrors the gnarly state of national politics.

By Tim Dickinson November 3, 2014 Published in the November 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

Usually even our Pacific Wonderland’s stormiest politics send few ripples beyond Oregon’s borders. But this month, our votes could alter the nation’s course on issues ranging from the drug war and gender equality to control of the Senate. Here’s what’s on the November 4 ballot, and why it matters—for America! 

Monica Wehby, the GOP Candidate for US Senate

On one hand: This pediatric neurosurgeon (and serial boyfriend-stalker) offers considerably more tabloid appeal than flavorless Dem incumbent Jeff Merkley.

On the other: A Wehby win would help solidify the power of the Koch brothers. The secretive, powerful right-wing oil billionaires are spending millions on her behalf.

National stakes: A Wehby victory could also help tip the Senate into GOP hands. Majority Leader Ted Cruz, anyone?

Marijuana Legalization

On one hand: Taxes on legalized weed would fund education and law enforcement. DIY’ers could grow at home. Plus: one less reason to go to Clark County.

On the other: Does the world really need cannabis kombucha? 

National stakes: If Oregon’s pro-pot proposal wins amid an off-year election’s low turnout, look for a wave of legalization efforts in 2016, in California and beyond.

Gov. John Kitzhaber

On one hand: The brainy centrist seeks an unprecedented fourth term. Kitz presided over significant employment gains over the past four years.

On the other: Kitzhaber also presided over the Cover Oregon fiasco: $250 million in federal funds squandered on a useless web portal. After building his career on health care reform.

National stakes: Kitzhaber’s race against Dennis Richardson makes the nation’s most clear-cut target for protest votes against Obamacare’s botched rollout.

Genetically Modified Food Labels

On one hand: Consumers could make informed grocery buys, and ponder the terrifying Twinkie.

On the other: Yet another dietary restriction to consider when planning a dinner party. Yet another sticker to peel off that papaya.

National stakes: Monsanto and the processed-food industry are fighting hard (and spending big) here to preempt a nationwide GMO disclosure battle.

Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants

On one hand: People who drive anyway could get right with the law, which might mean fewer hit-and-runs. The DMV could rake in $8 million by 2017.

On the other: The undocumented get documents, a development some might consider a slippery slope.

National stakes: Oregon could be a bellwether: With Congress deadlocked, do states tackle immigration reform piecemeal?

Open Primary System

On one hand: Every candidate for an office goes into a single primary, and the top two—regardless of party—advance to the general election, possibly reducing partisan rancor.

On the other: Chips away at the two-party system. Wait, what’s the “con,” again? 

National stakes: Joining California and Washington, Oregon would make top-two primaries the new Left Coast normal, spurring an eastward march.

Equal Rights Amendment

On one hand: A state constitutional amendment guaranteeing women equality under the law—the best ’70s throwback since Alex Chilton!

On the other: C’mon. 

National stakes: As the Supreme Court gets medieval on women’s rights (see: Hobby Lobby), Oregon’s ERA would take gender politics on a Delorean ride back to the future.

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