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2020 Political Races Come Into Focus After Oregon Filing Deadline

Less than three hours before the filing deadline on Tuesday, the top Oregon Republican in the Senate — who led his caucus on several walkouts — withdrew from the race, effectively confirming he wouldn’t seek reelection.

For many people, Sen.  Herman Baertschiger’s decision not to run came as a surprise.

Jolee Wallace, a small business owner and longtime school board member, heard a news report that Baertschiger wasn’t running on Tuesday morning and by that afternoon she had entered the race.

“I’m 24 hours into this. As we speak, I’m trying to write my statement for the voter’s pamphlet that needs to be in tomorrow. … So everything is under the gun,” Wallace said.

Incumbent politicians inherently have an advantage when seeking reelection and people tend to think twice before challenging someone already holding the seat. And in Oregon, if an incumbent decides not to run, there is a way to stack the deck in favor of a political ally.

Here’s how it works: The incumbent files to run for reelection, informs their handpicked candidate that they actually plan to drop out after the filing deadline, leaving only the replacement candidate on the ballot.

Josephine County Commissioner Simon Hare, who filed for Baertschiger's seat, said he had an inkling the state senator wasn't going to seek reelection. But he pushed back on the notion that he was Baertschiger's handpicked successor. Hare noted Baertschiger informed his caucus on Sunday he wasn’t filing for reelection.

“When the caucus knows, the whole world knows,” Hare said. “It wasn’t orchestrated, like, ‘Hey, Simon, I want you to take my seat.' If that had been the case, I wouldn’t have an opponent. I wouldn’t have an opponent at all. No one is running against Herman, not down here.”

But Hare said he had a heads-up from "the rumor mill" Baertschiger wasn’t going to run, even before the senator had told his Republican colleagues. And, Hare, who has been arrested for driving while intoxicated and criticized for sending suggestive texts to young women, said he called Baertschiger, who encouraged him to run.

“I think what you’re looking for is the Dennis Linthicum style. I’m proof that isn’t what happened,” Hare said, referencing a controversial candidate filing in 2016. “With Dennis, nobody knew … that was an inside game.”

In 2016, when two longtime incumbent, husband-and-wife lawmakers —  Sen. Doug Whitsett and Rep. Gail Whitsett— decided not to run, they waited to withdraw until after the filing deadline. Three minutes before the filing deadline, Linthicum filed to run for the Senate and Werner Reschke filed to run for the House seat. Once the Whitsetts decided to drop out, it ensured neither Reschke nor Linthicum faced a primary opponent.

Prominent southern Oregon chemist Art Robinson, Wallace and another candidate vying for Baertschiger’s position, Jordan Lawson, all filed late on filing day after OPB broke the news Baertschiger wasn’t seeking reelection.

Lawson, who is running on a platform to advocate for those with disabilities, said he planned to run for another seat until he heard Baertschiger wasn’t running.

“I heard Herman wasn’t going to run again, so I thought it was a great opportunity,” Lawson said.

Last-minute filing maneuvers are not a move exclusive to Republican races.

Astoria Democrat Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell, who survived a recall attempt last year, announced at 12:47 p.m. on filing day she wasn’t seeking reelection. Minutes later, at 1:03 p.m., the Democratic political action committee sent out a press release with details about Debbie Boothe-Schmidt, who filed for the seat.

It’s a practice that has happened for years. Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said it amounts to a subversion of democracy.

He plans to introduce a measure in upcoming legislative sessions to extend the deadline for interested candidates if an incumbent drops out after the filing deadline.

Former Rep. Mike McLane, R-Prineville, who is now a circuit court judge, tried to pass similar legislation after he was essentially frozen out from running for the Whitsett seat. That measure died in committee.

Despite having a heads-up, Hare might not have an easy path to the Legislature. 

Robinson, one of the nation’s most prominent climate change deniers, dropped his sixth consecutive congressional candidacy to run for Baertschiger's seat.

Robinson, who runs a scientific institute from his Cave Junction ranch, ran against Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio in five consecutive elections and lost each time. He had been moving forward with yet another race for DeFazio’s seat before deciding to file for the state Senate.

Robinson said Wednesday that he thinks his long experience in countering climate change activists would be particularly valued in the Legislature, where the two parties have been fighting over legislation that would limit carbon emissions in the state.

“I really know the facts” about this issue, he said, “because I’ve been studying this for 25 years and done some prominent things about it.”

Robinson spearheaded two international petition drives arguing that carbon emissions are not a problem and that climate change does not pose a major threat to the planet. The Heartland Institute, a nonprofit that has defended the continued production of fossil fuels, has created a center on climate and environmental policy in his name.

Robinson’s decision to drop his congressional candidacy helps clear a path to the Republican nomination for Roseburg resident  Alek Skarlatos. He’s a former Oregon National Guardsman who helped foil a 2015 terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train. He later played himself in a movie about the attack.

One other Republican, Eugene engineer and businessman Nelson Ijih, is also seeking the nomination. DeFazio, first elected in 1986 and the longest-serving member of the Oregon congressional delegation, is opposed by two Democrats, Springfield health care worker Cassidy Clausen and Eugene community organizer Doyle Canning.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jeff Mapes is a senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, Jeff covered state and national politics for The Oregonian for nearly 32 years. He has covered numerous presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and ballot measure campaigns, as well as many sessions of the Legislature, stretching back to 1985. Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in journalism.
Lauren Dake is a JPR content partner from Oregon Public Broadcasting. Before OPB, Lauren spent nearly a decade working as a print reporter. She’s covered politics and rural issues in Oregon and Washington.