Democratic Oregon House incumbents win primaries, one race remains too close to call

All incumbent House Democrats won their primary campaigns, while one open race in Corvallis remained too close to call after the first few days of vote-counting. 

With several Democrats from safe districts retiring or running for higher offices, most contested House primaries were for seats in which the primary, not the general election, determines which candidate will represent the area. And with one exception, all races were decisively settled with the first round of results on Tuesday night.

“In every single race where an incumbent House Democrat was challenged in the primary, the incumbent representative won by an extremely wide margin, so that I found really affirming and encouraging,” said House Majority Leader Ben Bowman, D-Tigard. “Our voters are supportive of the last couple of legislative sessions and the work that’s happened over the last few years.”

Bowman was also relieved to see higher turnout among Democratic voters than Republicans in a handful of swing districts, though he said he won’t take anything for granted as Democrats fight to keep – and potentially expand – their 10-seat majority in the state House. 

The 16th House District race between Corvallis school board members Sami Al-Abdrabbuh and Sarah Finger McDonald remained too close to call, with McDonald leading by just 188 votes. Benton County plans to release additional results on May 29.

8th District: Outside money in Eugene

Lisa Fragala, a Lane Community College Board director and university partnership coordinator for Pacific University, will replace House Speaker Pro Tem Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, in the safely Democratic 8th House District. She captured about 74% of the vote to 26% for Doyle Canning, an attorney and past congressional candidate who now works as Portland Democratic Rep. Khanh Pham’s legislative director.

Lisa Fragala
 Lisa Fragala won the Democratic nomination in the 8th House District. (Campaign photo)

The race was rocked by more than $130,000 in negative spending against Canning from Eugene is Ready, a political action committee formed by former Democratic state Rep. Brian Clem and funded with part of the $1 million loan he gave his Oregonians are Ready PAC, which exists to elect moderate Democrats. 

Clem told the Capital Chronicle ahead of the primary that his spending in the 8th District was personal: Former U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio has been a hero of Clem’s since he worked in DeFazio’s office while in high school. Clem was still upset over Canning’s 2020 primary challenge to DeFazio, in which she described him as weak on the environment. DeFazio endorsed Fragala and told OPB that he hasn’t forgiven Canning. 

“I am fairly certain Lisa is not a centrist but I trust Peter implicitly and am happy to facilitate the expression of his views on the race,” Clem said. 

Fragala raised more than $170,000 and spent more than $150,000, while Canning raised $96,000 and spent almost $92,000, state campaign finance records show. The role of independent expenditures in the race could prove a harbinger of future Oregon legislative races when campaign contributions limits passed by the Legislature this year take effect in 2027.

Fragala didn’t mince words when speaking about the independent expenditures in the race. 

“I think it was a disservice to both candidates in the race, and I think it was a disservice to our community,” she said.

She said candidates should strive to do what she did in her campaign: Focus on their values, why they’re the right person to serve the community and what they’re passionate about. 

“Very few people asked me about the independent expenditures,” she said. “They wanted to share their stories, and they wanted to hear what I was going to work on. And so that’s what I think candidates need to focus on.”

No Republicans ran in the district. 

33rd District: A new voice in northwest Portland

Marine veteran and addiction treatment nonprofit founder Shannon Jones Isadore will replace state Rep. Maxine Dexter in the 33rd House District in northwest Portland. Like Dexter, a physician who is now the Democratic nominee in the 3rd Congressional District, Isadore has experience treating people who struggle with addiction. 

Shannon Jones Isadore, a Democratic candidate for state House District 33. (Provided)
 Shannon Jones Isadore, a Democratic candidate for state House District 33. (Provided)

She founded the Oregon Change Clinic, which provides addiction treatment and supportive housing in a 37-bed former motel. And she has family experience with addiction and criminalization: Her father spent much of her childhood in and out of prison because of drug addiction. 

Isadore captured almost 51% of the vote in a race against surgeon Brian Duty and attorney Pete Grabiel. She’ll face either retired accountant Stan Baumhofer or forest consultant Dick Courter in the November general election – just 17 votes separated the two Republicans as of Thursday afternoon. 

But Isadore is all but certain to be sworn into office in January, as the district overwhelmingly favors Democrats. She’s also likely to be the only Black woman in the state Legislature, as Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, is now the Democratic nominee in the 5th Congressional District. 

46th District: Public defender prevails

Willy Chotzen, a Democratic candidate in the primary for state House District 46 seat. (Provided)
 Willy Chotzen, a Democratic candidate in the primary for state House District 46 seat. (Provided)

Public defender Willy Chotzen defeated retired public health nurse Mary Lou Hennrich in the reliably blue 46th House District in southeast Portland. Current Rep. Khanh Pham, D-Portland, is running for a vacant state Senate seat. 

No Republicans filed, and Chotzen is all but certain to take office in January. He told the Capital Chronicle ahead of the primary that he hopes to build a consensus around good ideas in the statehouse without seeking the spotlight. 

“I’m not someone who’s super focused on who gets credit for something,” he said. “I’m really good at bringing people on board with an idea and finding ways to build alliances.”

Chotzen raised more than $160,000 for his campaign, more than double Hennrich’s $63,000. Hennrich, who was the first CEO of the Medicaid insurer CareOregon, was endorsed by Gov. Tina Kotek, who otherwise stayed out of legislative races, and by legislative health care committee chairs Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, and Sen. Deb Patterson, D-Salem. 

Incumbents fend off challengers

Reps. Farrah Chaichi of Beaverton, Jules Walters of West Linn and Hoa Nguyen of Portland easily defeated challengers. 

Chaichi, a freshman who quickly emerged as one of the most progressive members of the House, beat aerospace sales and business development director Casey Zimmerman with nearly 78% of the vote in the 35th House District in Beaverton and Aloha. She’ll face Republican retired Navy hospital corpsman Dan Martin in November, and the district favors Democrats. 

“I ran based on the theory that if I stood up for working class people, they would have my back when I was challenged,” Chaichi said in a statement. “Our campaign would not have been possible without support from so many hard working volunteers. I am honored to stand with you in the fight for an Oregon where we center human rights to dignity and prosperity.” 

Walters captured nearly 90% of the vote in her primary race against Brian Maguire, a data storage company CEO and longtime Republican donor. As the Capital Chronicle first reported, Maguire has given nearly $400,000 to state and federal Republican candidates and causes over the past 20 years, including supporting former Republican President Donald Trump and giving $25,000 apiece to the last two Republicans to run for governor in Oregon. 

Walters will face Republican Ben Edtl in November. The suburban 37th House District south of Portland also favors Democrats. 

Nguyen won with about 73% of the vote over clinical trial manager Elizabeth Petersen in the 48th House District in southeast Portland. The district is one of a handful of races expected to be close in the general election, where Nguyen will meet small business owner John Masterman.

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.