The race for the right to represent District 57 in the Oregon House of Representatives pits four-term incumbent Greg Smith against Jerry Sebestyen, a LaGrande High School history teacher.
It's a race marked by several anomalies. First of all, Sebestyen has really not mounted an aggressive campaign and, after having visited with both candidates, neither had the slightest inclination to diss the other.
Sebestyen entered the campaign because he was concerned that Smith would run unopposed. As he said at the time, "no candidate should expect a coronation." A former chair of the Union County Democratic party, Sebestyen still believes District 57 voters want a change and an alternative.
Its not easy running a campaign in District 57 - one of Oregon's most sprawling governmental units. The district includes all of Morrow County, Milton-Freewater, Ukiah, the rural areas around south Umatilla County, and all of Union and Wallowa counties.
Perhaps that's why Smith offers a rather unique approach to his duties as a legislator.
"Perhaps my least favorite part of the job is the legislative session itself and having to go to Salem. My real interest," he said, "is helping constituents navigate their way through the complex maize of red tape they encounter when dealing with the State of Oregon."
That makes a lot of sense.
Where else would people from Joseph, Elgin, Union, Irrigon, or Heppner turn for answers in remote Eastern Oregon if it weren't to their legislator? It isn't like the state has an information bureau right in the heart of District 57 and going all the way to Salem is pretty prohibitive.
So, they turn to Smith, who genuinely seems to enjoy the role of ombudsman.
Perhaps that's also why his experience in Salem is so useful in his role. Rep. Bob Jenson is the dean of the House, but Smith, who is running for a fifth term, is tied with two others for second place.
The veteran legislator can recite specific examples of help he has provided those he represents, whether it be in human services, on water issues or the Department of Motor Vehicles. In some ways, he sees himself as something of a mediator, helping people find answers - like the man with no birth certificate who wanted to secure a passport or a 40-year woman with leukemia who was having difficulty getting assistance.
He doesn't just work with individuals, he also likes to work with entities such as the Port of Morrow, the Port of Umatilla, or Umatilla Electric Cooperative on major funding initiatives and helping them through roadblocks and regulations. Smith believes he was instrumental in helping assure a specific portion of the ConnectOregon funds were designated for Eastern Oregon.
As he looks at the coming legislative session, Smith sees three issues looming on the horizon. In a state almost wholly dependent upon income tax revenues, the current tax crisis is sure to take its toll. "We need to start planning for the downturn in revenue," said Smith.
He also believes rural Oregon got "hammered" in the last legislative session, particularly in terms of recapitalizing special funds that are necessary for leverage on federal loans. His third issue is funding for small hospitals, such as the ones in the area he represents.
Finally, he wants to support education, not just K-12, but Blue Mountain Community College and Eastern Oregon University.
Considering the party imbalance that exists in Salem, it helps to have senior legislators who know their way around the capitol.
We believe Greg Smith has earned a fifth term.
Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the East Oregonian editorial board, comprised of Editor George Murdock, Associate Publisher Kathryn Brown, General Manager Wendy DalPez and Managing Editor Skip Nichols. Other columns, letters and cartoons on this page express the opinions of the authors and not necessarily that of the East Oregonian.