The Oregon State Capitol building

Maybe you’ve heard—there was a national election last night. (And still going on today, and most likely in the coming weeks in court.) 

But don’t let all the intrigue over the presidential race completely distract you from focusing in on an interesting night here at home. Here are the stories that will resonate from election 2020 in Oregon, long after we finally know who will be in the White House come January 21. 

1. Don't blame Raiford for Wheeler's second term. Or do. 

Is it too glib to say that the write-in candidacy of Teressa Raiford handed Ted Wheeler his second term as the mayor of Portland? Possibly yes—there were more than 45,000 write-in votes, to be sure, almost double Wheeler’s vote margin over challenger Sarah Iannarone, but there’s no way to know how many of them were for Raiford—people could have written in Mickey Mouse. And yet, it seems likely that many of the write-ins were for Raiford, the founder of Don’t Shoot PDX and a prominent Black Lives Matter activist in Portland, who declined to actively campaign in the general election, but allowed a network of grassroots volunteers to promote her candidacy far and wide. Would the Raiford voters have otherwise broken for Iannarone? Maybe not—they could have sat out the race. But it's doubtful that many of them would have voted for Wheeler, given his widely-panned handling of five months of racial justice protests in Oregon.  

What to watch for next: Will Raiford make another attempt at public office after four previous unsuccessful attempts—but arguably with a higher profile now than ever before? 

2. There's a major realignment in city hall coming.

Speaking of Wheeler, he gets a fresh start when the new Portland City Council reconvenes and may find more common ground with City Commissioner-elect Mingus Mapps, who ousted incumbent Chloe Eudaly, known for her advocacy on tenants’ rights and transportation justice. But there should also be some fences to mend with perhaps the city’s most influential politician, City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, whose eleventh hour endorsement for Iannarone came too late to alter the race.  

What to watch for next: Wheeler has said that come January, when the new city council is sworn in, “everything is on the table,” including a possible transfer of control over the Portland Police Bureau, a role Hardesty desperately wants. Meanwhile, Eudaly fans are already murmuring that she’d be an excellent candidate to head up Metro, the Portland area’s regional government, which suffered a big loss on Tuesday when voters refused to okay its proposed payroll tax for transportation investments. 

3. Oregon Dems won—but DeFazio's office is one to worry about down the road. 

From one deep blue state to the next, we’re asking sincerely: Vermont, what’s up with that Republican governor of yours? For that matter, Kentucky, how do you guys have a Democrat in charge? Here in Oregon, at least on a statewide level, Democrats clawed back the only seat held by a Republican—the Secretary of State’s office. That puts the newly elected Shemia Fagan automatically in the mix to run for governor once Kate Brown’s term is up in two years, and could give Democrats the final say over congressional district boundaries that will be redrawn in the coming year, once census results are complete. (Look for Oregon to gain another congressional seat, which will likely be carved out around the Portland metro area’s suburbs.) 

What to watch for next: In the end, Republicans have only one federal seat in the state, in the 2nd Congressional District, where former State Sen. Cliff Bentz of Ontario was easily elected to replace retiring Rep. Greg Walden. Republicans had hoped to swipe a seat from Rep. Peter DeFazio, who represents Eugene, Corvallis, Roseburg and a wide swatch of the Oregon Coast, but fell well short despite a telegenic candidate who once competed on Dancing with the Stars. But if the 73-year-old DeFazio retires in 2022, taking his powerful incumbency and name recognition with him? The seat will be an all-out-slugfest. 

4. The rural/urban divide strikes again. 

But why should that DeFazio seat be such a fight, you ask, especially since Eugene and Corvallis are reliably liberal? Glad you asked. That brings us to Oregon’s rural/urban divide, always an issue, but it looks like the gap is getting ever-wider, particularly out on the Oregon Coast, once a reliable source of so-called lunch-bucket Democrats. In both the Oregon state House and state Senate, Democrats were seeking walkout-proof majorities, meaning they each had to add two more seats. Looks like they won’t get there, and that’s in large part due to Republican gains on the Oregon Coast. Democrats look to have lost House seats in the Astoria-Tillamook corridor and along the central coast, in the Newport-Coos Bay region, and a state Senate seat in the central/southern coastal area too. That’s offset by a pickup for Democrats of a state House seat in Bend, and a state Senate seat in Marion County, but isn’t enough to guarantee that business in the Capitol can continue should Republicans decide to deny a quorum and walk out of either chamber. 

What to watch for next: Well, definitely not cap-and-trade legislation coming out of Salem. Since that’s the topic that caused previous walkouts, and since the pandemic-sized hole in the state’s budget will be pretty all-consuming this year, we’d be surprised if that came up in 2021. 

5. The big winner: drugs, dude. And, like, public stuff. 

  • It didn’t necessarily get that much attention in this noisy presidential/pandemic year, but the statewide measure to decriminalize trace amounts of drugs including cocaine and heroin for personal possession that passed last night could turn out to be the leading edge of nationwide change. Already, drug policy experts are telling the New York Times that they expect states including California, Vermont and Washington to follow our lead. Meanwhile, other ballot measures proved that even in a pandemic, Portlanders are still willing to shell out for public services, including schools, libraries and parks. 

What to watch for next: Sticker shock, during the next round of property taxes. 

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