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Election leaves no doubt of ‘two’ Oregons

If anyone doubts that Oregon is a deeply divided state, they need only look at the county-by-county results in the U.S. Senate and Gubernatorial elections.

Freshman U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, who will now be virtually powerless with the GOP in control of both national legislative houses, was able to stick enough mud on his moderate Republican challenger, Dr. Monica Wehby, to win the statewide race handily by 55.65 percent.

That percentage, however, is somewhat misleading. Merkley won in 16 of Oregon’s 36 counties. Wehby won in 20 counties, but lost the statewide vote. In four of the counties Merkley won, he had less than a 50 percent margin, due to the various third party candidates who took votes from both sides.

Throw out Merkley’s margin of victory in just Oregon’s seven largest counties–Multnomah, where he won by a huge 157,347 vote difference; Washington and Lane, where he also had a wide lead, plus Clackamas, Marion, Jackson and Deschutes, where his margin was much narrower, and Wehby would have won the election.

The political divide between Oregon’s urban and rural areas is even more starkly demonstrated by the 2014 gubernatorial election. Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber was re-elected, by 49.76 percent of the votes cast, to a fourth term–allowed because Oregon law limits a governor to two consecutive terms, but has no limit on total terms. Kitzhaber’s second and third terms were interrupted by 8 years of Gov. Ted Kulongoski, also a Democrat.

Kitzhaber won in only seven of Oregon’s counties–Multnomah, Washington, Lane, Benton, Lincoln, Hood River, and Tillamook. In rural Tillamook County, his margin was only six votes. Throw out Kitzhaber’s margin of victory in liberal Multnomah County alone, and long-time State Rep. Dennis Richardson, a Republican from rural southern Oregon, would be our next governor. Portlandia cast 195,130 votes for Kitzhaber to only 64,702 votes for Richardson–a 130,428 vote difference.

Statewide, Kitzhaber won by only 77,633.

Clackamas, Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, Deschutes, Jackson, Polk, Wasco and Yamhill counties all favored Merkley over Wehby in the Senate race, but went for the Republican, Richardson, over Kitzhaber for governor. Ditto in Marion County–the home of the State Capitol and the Governor’s mansion, Mahonia Hall, where Kitzhaber has installed his live-in girlfriend in a position of power and influence, and insisted Oregonians refer to her as “First Lady.” Marion County gave a 4,450 vote margin–47,908 to 43,458 to Merkley over Wehby–but favored Richardson, 52,828, to Kitzhaber, 41,256.

The 2010 gubernatorial race between Kitzhaber and Chris Dudley, viewed as more moderate than Richardson, was even closer, and, again, Multomah County swung it to Kitzhaber.

Clearly, the residents of rural Oregon have reason to feel disenfranchised by the leftist majority of Portlandia.

Why this urban/rural divide? Because the liberal policies of recent Democratic administrations have kept Oregon’s rural communities in poverty. Natural resource jobs have been killed by over-the-top environmental extremism. New job creation has been stymied by mountains of obstacles, while industries locating in Portland and the upper Willamette Valley are greeted with open arms. Oregon’s small towns are dying on the vine, because their young people must move to cities to find work.

In his victory speech on election night, Kitzhaber mentioned the need for healing. But at 67 and in his second consecutive term (out of a total 16-year reign), how much incentive does he have to reach out to those who have no reason to trust him or his left-wing allies?

Oregonians who are not enthralled with King John and his “First Lady” need to keep the pressure on the Oregon Ethics Commission and our state legislators to continue to investigate the abuses of power in the governor’s office, and put the brakes on the overreach of the executive branch.

An earlier version of this story was originally published in the U-Choose Education Bulletin.

Featured image is Shutterstock 

Deborah Steele Hazen

Deborah Steele Hazen is a fifth generation Oregonian with over 40 years’ experience reporting on politics and economic development issues.

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