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Three take-aways from the midterms

Phil Wright

East Oregonian

Published on November 7, 2018 12:01AM

Last changed on November 7, 2018 9:32PM

A bundle of ballots sits in a bin after election specialist Debbie Swenson visually verifies each voter signature Tuesday evening on election night at the Umatilla County Elections Division offices in Pendleton.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

A bundle of ballots sits in a bin after election specialist Debbie Swenson visually verifies each voter signature Tuesday evening on election night at the Umatilla County Elections Division offices in Pendleton.

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Volunteer Norman Stabler, center, of Pendleton works with other election-night volunteers removing ballots from their envelopes to prepare them for counting Tuesday at the Umatilla County Elections division in Pendleton.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Volunteer Norman Stabler, center, of Pendleton works with other election-night volunteers removing ballots from their envelopes to prepare them for counting Tuesday at the Umatilla County Elections division in Pendleton.

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Umatilla County voters just don’t do it.

More than 68.4 percent of Oregon voters cast ballots in the midterm election Tuesday, according to the latest results from the Oregon Sectary of State. Umatilla County, however, continued its trend of low voter turnout at 56.5 percent.

Once again, Umatilla County is dead last in the state.

Malheur County was second to last, at 59.2 percent, and third to the bottom goes to Jefferson with 62.2. Wheeler County had the highest turnout — 83.4 percent.

Umatilla County’s turnout was not even in the same neighborhood as its bordering neighbors. Morrow County’s turnout was 62.4 percent, Union County’s 67.6 percent and Grant County’s was 73.4 percent.

And while Oregon set a record for total ballots cast at 1.9 million, Umatilla County voters returned 24,629, or 3,445 fewer than in the 2016 general election.

Tuesday night also turned the blue Oregon House bluer.

Democrats in the Oregon House already had a supermajority, and the election added two more to their ranks. Rep. Greg Smith, Republican from Heppner for House District 57, said he and his caucus face a new reality, but he is ready to forge new relationships and friendships to take care of the needs of his district.

“I can work with anyone if they can help solve a problem and I can help them solve a problem,” he said.

Smith also said he is going to work as closely as he can with Gov. Kate Brown, Democrat, and her office, “but I’m going to ask her to remember even though Republicans might be in the minority, we still have good ideas and want to find common ground.”

That is going to be a bigger key for members of the minority party than in the recent past. Republicans who can cross the aisle and make deals will find ways to help their districts. Republicans who let political ideology get in the way of the district needs are apt to find themselves in the corner.

Smith also said the midterm election could signal some real change is afoot in Eastern Oregon. He said he plans on holding town hall meetings before the start of the 2019 session in January to hear from the people.

The outcomes of the five ballot measures reflect the urban-rural divide — to a point.

About 56 percent of Oregonians passed Measure 102 to allow local governments to use public bond money for private housing developments. Umatilla County voters said no with 57.7 percent of the vote and Morrow County with 58.2 percent.

The majority of Oregonians rejected Measure 103 to prohibit taxes on groceries, they rejected Measure 105 and preserved Oregon’s sanctuary state status, and they rejected Measure 106, which would have banned public funding of most abortions. Morrow, Umatilla and Union county voters, predictably, passed each.

State Sen. Bill Hansell, Republican from Athena, said the measures were conservative, so it made sense they had traction in rural Oregon.

Rural and urban voters, however, matched up better on Measure 104, which aimed to require a three-fifths majority in the Legislature to approve taxes to raise revenue.

The measure failed statewide about 65 percent to 35 percent. The margin was tighter here, with 52.3 percent voting against in Morrow County, 51.9 percent against in Umatilla and 52.7 percent against in Union County. The measure failed in all but one of Oregon’s 36 counties. Lake County voters passed the measure 51.2 to 48.8 percent.

Smith supported 104. He said the local outcomes came as a real surprise because Eastern Oregon voters are generally fiscally conservative. While he said he missed on this, he did not buy the notion Oregonians opposed the measure to make sure lawmakers had the freedom to do their jobs.

Measure 102 amends the state Constitution, and 103, 104 and 106 would have as well. Conservative Eastern Oregonians were more willing to pass those measures than liberal metro residents. Smith said he gets nervous when proposals try to add language to the Constitution.

“I do think the Legislature is the voice of the people,” he said, and issues such as grocery taxes don’t belong in the Constitution and should remain the responsibility of state lawmakers.

Hansell was on board with that. Constitutional amendments circumvent the legislative process, he said, and thus make it harder for lawmakers to do their work. However, they also could preserve certain priorities. He said perhaps local voters were willing to live with that double-edged sword.



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