Oregon state House and Senate primaries are set. Here’s what you need to know
Nearly 200 people are vying for legislative seats, but only a handful have contested primaries
A sign on a desk in the House Chamber at the Oregon State Capitol on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle)
Nearly 200 people are running for 76 seats in the Oregon House and Senate and will appear on primary ballots in May. Voters’ choices only matter in a handful of races.
Only registered Democrats or Republicans can vote in party primaries. The nearly 1.2 million voters – roughly 40% of the electorate – who aren’t members of either party don’t get a say until the general election in November. Candidates nominated by minor parties will appear on the ballot in November and have separate deadlines to file for office.
In many legislative districts, Oregon’s 1 million registered Democrats and 730,000 registered Republicans also won’t get to cast votes that matter in primaries. All 60 House seats and 16 of the 30 in the Senate are up for election this year, and many districts only managed to attract one candidate per party.
They are competing for a job that pays about $33,000 a year and increasingly requires persistent campaign fundraising. The primary election is May 17.
Here’s a statewide look at the legislative races to watch, the ones that won’t have matchups until the general election in November and the candidates who can already start planning how they’ll decorate their capitol offices.
Decided in the primary
At least eight races will be settled in the primary, either because one party didn’t field a candidate or because the district overwhelmingly favors one party. Winners will appear on the general election ballot, but alone.
- Scio Republicans Ed Diehl, the retired owner of an engineering consulting firm, and Beth Jones, an attorney, are running in the Republican primary in the 17th House District, along Oregon Highway. 22 in the Santiam Canyon.
- Rep. Ken Helm, D-Portland, must survive a primary challenge from Portland anesthesiologist Tammy Carpenter to make it to his sixth term in the 27th House District.
- Rep. Lisa Reynolds, D-Beaverton, faces Portland attorney Jennifer Kinzey in the 34th House District.
- Farrah Chaichi, intake and conflicts coordinator at a law firm, and theater owner Zeloszelos Marchandt, are the two Democrats running in the Beaverton-based 35th House District.
- Two Democrats are running in the 38th House District, another safely Democratic district now represented by Rep. Andrea Salinas, who’s running for Congress. Portland restaurateur Daniel Nguyen or Neelam Gupta, director of clinical support, integration and workforce at the Oregon Health Authority, will most likely be the next representative from the south Portland suburbs.
- The Milwaukie-based 41st House District strongly favors Democrats and is an open seat after Rep. Karin Power announced she would leave the Legislature because of low pay. Political strategist Kaliko Castille, Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba and retired transit operator Christopher Draus are all seeking the Democratic nomination.
- Rep. Travis Nelson, D-Portland, already beat college counselor Eric Delehoy once in the north Portland 44th House District long represented by former House Speaker Tina Kotek, who’s now running for governor. Multnomah County commissioners picked Nelson over Delehoy to fill Kotek’s seat in January, and they’ll have a rematch on the May ballot.
- Former House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner waited until just hours before the filing deadline on March 8 to tell constituents she wasn’t running for re-election in the northeast Portland 45th House district. Two Democrats managed to file in time: optometrist Thuy Tran and Catherine Thomasson, a consultant who chairs the Democratic Party of Oregon’s environmental caucus.
- Rep. Bobby Levy, R-Echo, faces a primary challenge from Summerville landscape contractor Skye Farnam in the 58th House district in northeast Oregon.
Other primaries to watch
Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, originally said last fall he wouldn’t run for re-election because his district was “heavily gerrymandered.” Now, the Democrat who has served in the House since 2005 is running in the Salem-based 19th House District, claiming he lives at a home he bought in 2005 but has never before claimed as his primary address.
Witt was removed from House committees in 2021 after Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson, now the House Republican leader, accused him of sending her sexually harassing text messages. He’ll face two Salem city councilors, Jackie Leung and Tom Andersen, in the May primary. Salem insurance agent T.J. Sullivan is unopposed in the Republican primary.
Just to the north, an open seat in the Keizer-based 21st House District is one of the few true tossups, and both parties have contested primaries. Financial analyst Robert Husseman and auto repair shop owner Ramiro Navarro Jr. are vying for the Democratic nomination.
Kevin Mannix, an attorney, former legislator and former chairman of the Oregon Republican Party, is seeking a return to the Capitol. He’ll face forklift operator Kyler McNaught in the Republican primary.
The race to replace Salem Democrat Peter Courtney in the Senate President’s office will play out among leading Senate Democrats over the coming months. The race to replace him as the senator from north Salem depends on the outcome of two contested primaries.
Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, was drawn into the same district as Coutney. She’ll face a primary challenge from Marcello De Cicco, who describes himself as a small business owner. Anthony Rosilez, executive director of the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, Pacific University instructor Eric Swenson and attorney Richard Walsh are running in the Democratic primary.
Republicans hold a slight advantage in the 12th House District east of Eugene, and four are vying for the open seat. Charlie Conrad, a Dexter man who works for Lane County; Nicole de Graff, a Springfield business owner and executive director of a group opposed to vaccination mandates; Cottage Grove millwright Jeff Gowing and retired pharmaceutical salesman Bob Ledford of Eugene are all seeking the Republican nomination.
Michelle Emmons, program manager of the Upper Willamette Watershed, is unopposed in the Democratic primary. The 12th district was the subject of an unsuccessful lawsuit after state Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene, said fellow Democrats added his neighborhood to a Republican district to punish him for criticizing Oregn’s partisan redistricting process and prevent him from challenging a Democratic senator.
Rep. Jami Cate, R-Lebanon, eked out a primary victory by just 33 votes in 2020. The Lebanon farmer has another Republican primary in the 11th House District east of Corvallis with field service technician Tyler Collins and real estate agent Heather Dillon, both of Brownsville.
Retiring Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, gave Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, his blessing in running for Senate in the 26th Senate District along the Columbia River. But Bonham faces a three-way primary with Steve Bates, the owner of a fire equipment sales company in Boring, and Michael Nugent, a program manager for the Oregon Health Authority who lives in Corbett.
The winner will meet Democrat Raz Mason, a private security provider, and neither party has a clear advantage in the redrawn district.
Sen. Bill Kennemer, R-Oregon City, faces a primary challenge from Tim Large, a Gladstone audio/video operator, in Clackamas County’s 20th Senate District. The winner will face Rep. Mark Meek, D-Gladstone.
Ready for January
Six current legislators have no competition in either the primary or general elections and will coast to re-election.
- Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Democrat and municipal prosecutor who has represented Eugene in the Senate since 2003.
- Rep. Christine Goodwin, R-Canyonville, who owns an optometry business and was appointed to the House last August.
- Rep. Boomer Wright, R-Reedsport, a retired school superintendent elected in 2020.
- Rep Andrea Valderrama, D-Portland, a policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union appointed in 2021.
- Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, the longest-serving member of the state House who took office in 2001.
- Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, a farmer appointed in 2020.
Democratic Reps. Maxine Dexter, Rob Nosse, Khanh Pham and Tawna Sanchez, all of Portland, as well as Dacia Grayber, D-Tigard, Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis and Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, are all unopposed in primaries in safely Democratic districts. The same goes for Sens. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, and Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego.
Waiting for November
A number of other races drew only one Republican and one Democrat, meaning candidates can start preparing for the general election now. Among the highlights:
- Sen. Deb Patterson, D-Salem, and Rep. Raquel Moore-Green, R-Salem, will square off to represent south and west Salem, Monmouth and Independence in the 10th Senate District. The redrawn district is better for Democrats than when Patterson won in 2020, but Moore-Green won her House seat with many of the same voters.
- The 16th Senate District on the north coast is up for grabs after longtime Sen. Betsy Johnson resigned to run for governor. County commissioners passed on appointing Melissa Busch, a Democratic nurse from Warren, to finish Johnson’s term, denying her the advantage of incumbency. Rep. Suzanne Weber, R-Tillamook, will be the Republican nominee and has sought to cast herself as an ideological successor to Johnson, who frequently bucked the Democratic party. Republicans hold a slight advantage in the redrawn district.
- Bend attorney Emerson Levy is seeking to flip another central Oregon House seat from Republican to Democratic after the 53rd House District was redrawn to encapsulate more of Bend and Redmond and less of rural Deschutes County. Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, opted not to seek re-election, so Levy will face Bend Republican Michael Sipe, a career coach for Christian executives.
Correction and clarification: An earlier version of this story misspelled Tom Andersen's name. The article was also updated to note that candidates from minor parties have later deadlines to file for office.
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