Thursday marked the official start of the 2024 election season in Oregon, with dozens of candidates turning in forms and paying fees to appear on the ballot.
Candidates have until March to file for office, but early entries provide a preview of some of the races to expect next year, including Republican infighting in Lane County and an intense general election in the Columbia River Gorge. Hanging over it all is the question of whether a handful of Senate Republicans who walked out for six weeks will be allowed to run again.
All 60 state House seats are up for election for two-year terms in 2024, and 15 of the 30 Senate seats are up for four-year terms. Voters will also elect the attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer, all statewide races with four-year terms, and pick the state’s six U.S. representatives. City councilors, county commissioners, district attorneys and judges will also appear on ballots in many parts of the state.
Filling out paperwork and paying a fee doesn’t guarantee a candidate will appear on the ballot. Staff in the state elections office will start verifying that candidates are qualified to run – making sure they’re registered Oregon voters, belong to the Democratic or Republican party if they’re running in a primary and, in the case of state representatives and senators, have lived in their district for at least a year prior to the election.
Candidates who don’t meet those requirements will receive disqualification letters from the elections division and won’t appear on ballots. So will the handful of Republican senators who racked up more than 10 unexcused absences and ran afoul of a voter-approved law meant to discourage legislative walkouts, confirmed Ben Morris, chief of staff for Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade.
That’s subject to change depending on the outcome of an ongoing court case. Several of the affected senators and attorneys for the state have asked the state Supreme Court for a quick resolution to legal questions about enforcing the voter-approved Measure 113. The court will decide whether to take the case, bypassing the state court of appeals, by Sept. 29.
Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, is one of the Republican senators suing to be able to run for re-election, arguing that Measure 113’s poor wording means the 10 senators with 10 or more unexcused absences are ineligible for the term after the next one – meaning he could run in 2024, but not 2028. He filed in person at the state elections office, sharing a statement and declining interviews through a spokesman.
“The clear language of Measure 113 allows me to run one more time,” Knopp said. “Oregonians are fed up with the ‘tyranny of the majority’ over the past decades.”
Bend City Councilor Anthony Broadman, a Democrat, also filed to run in the Bend-based 27th Senate District on Thursday.
All in the family
Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, is one of the Republican senators suing for the right to run for re-election. But if his lawsuit is unsuccessful, Linthicum has a backup plan for making sure his southern Oregon district is represented by a Linthicum: his wife and chief of staff, Diane, also filed to run for the state Senate.
Neither Linthicum returned a call Thursday.
Republican supporting abortion rights faces primary challenge
Darin Harbick, a Republican business owner in the upper McKenzie Valley who ran an unsuccessful primary campaign for U.S. Senate last year, plans to challenge state Rep. Charlie Conrad, R-Dexter. Conrad drew the ire of some Republicans for voting with Democrats for a measure intended to ensure access to abortion and gender-affirming care after talking to doctors and parents and learning more about transgender health care.
“When I saw some of the votes that Representative Conrad cast, I was frustrated, and that gave me the desire (to run),” he told the Capital Chronicle.
Along with the abortion and gender-affirming care bill, Harbick said he disagreed with Conrad’s vote for a measure that will let voters decide in 2024 whether to adopt a ranked-choice voting system. Harbick also plans to push for more logging, keeping parents involved in public education and restricting government regulations on business.
He’s been endorsed by Oregon Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion political group. In June, Oregon Right to Life launched a campaign against Conrad, vowing to do everything it could to keep him from winning a second term. The group’s “Charlie Conrad, You Are Out” political action committee is nearly $1,300 in the hole and received a single $25 contribution, according to campaign finance records.
Conrad has not yet filed, but he previously told the Capital Chronicle he plans to run for re-election and looks forward to debating issues.
Contested race in key gorge district
Freshman Rep. Jeff Helfrich, R-Hood River, is the first incumbent representative facing a serious challenge. Nick Walden Poublon, a former legislative staffer who until Thursday was the vice chair of the Clackamas County Democrats, filed to run against Helfrich in the 52nd House District, which follows the Columbia River east from Troutdale to The Dalles. Helfrich won his race in 2022 by about 1,600 votes, and it’s one of the few truly competitive House seats.
Helfrich said the challenge came as no surprise.
“It’s a competitive seat and I always knew I would face an opponent,” he said. “I’ve spent the last nine months working to be a bipartisan voice in the Legislature and spending the time to travel around my district, hold meetings and hear from my constituents. None of that is going to change, regardless of who runs against me.”
Walden Poublon worked for former Democratic Rep. Lori Kuechler, a Sandy nonprofit consultant who was appointed to represent the district for a few months last year. He said he wants to work on constituent services and advocate for health care for all if elected.
“It is a really competitive district that has swung towards Democrats in the past,” Walden Poublon said. “I mean, Helfrich himself has lost in previous runs for the office, has been beaten in the past. And I think that it’s a swing district that has a strong chance of going blue in the presidential cycle.”
Senate showdown in eastern Oregon
Four Republican candidates for the sprawling 29th Senate District filed Thursday, setting up what could be one of the most contested primary elections. Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, is retiring after more than a decade in the Senate, and other eastern Oregon politicians are duking it out for his seat.
Wallowa County Commissioner Todd Nash, political activist Andy Huwe, Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann and former Morrow County Commissioner Jim Doherty have also indicated they plan to run. All are Republicans, and the district reliably elects conservative candidates.
Seeking representation in Columbia County
Drew Layda, a Republican who lost the 2022 primary to freshman Rep. Brian Stout, R-Columbia City, filed for a rematch, saying voters in his district have for years had less representation than other districts.
That’s because Stout and his predecessor, former Democratic Rep. Brad Witt, were both stripped of legislative committee assignments over inappropriate sexual behavior. House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, removed Stout from committees before his term began because Stout was subject to a restraining order from a former campaign volunteer who alleged he sexually assaulted her and threatened her life. Witt, who left office in 2023, lost his committee posts because House Minority Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville, reported that he sexually harassed her.
Stout and Witt were still able to vote on bills, but most work happens in committees. That’s where lawmakers work out amendments, hear from Oregonians and fine-tune bills before they go up for votes.
“I would be an extremely thoughtful committee member,” Layda said. “Even if there was a bill pushing forward that I didn’t like, I would be very beneficial for those committees because I could say, ‘Hey, you see those three pieces of language that you have right there, changing them by a word is the difference between 20,000 truckers and loggers coming around our capitol or not.”
Stout hasn’t indicated whether he’ll run for reelection. He beat Layda by a 2-to-1 margin in the primary last year, but Layda said this year will be different because allegations against Stout have now been substantiated by a judge.
Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: [email protected]. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.
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Julia Shumway is deputy editor of Oregon Capital Chronicle and has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.