State Senator Bolts GOP, Launches Bid

Well, the race for governor of Oregon just got a whole lot more interesting.

In addition, the 30-member Oregon State Senate now has 18 Democrats, 11 Republicans, and one Independent.


State Sen. Ben Westlund said Tuesday he’s bolting the Republican Party and entering the 2006 race for governor as an independent because the two-party system prevents solutions to the state’s serious problems.

Westlund joins three Republicans and three Democrats in the race, including incumbent Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

“I feel that extreme partisanship is keeping us from solving Oregon’s most pressing problems and the party label was keeping me from truly being able to provide leadership on the issues Oregonians care about,” Westlund said.

As an independent, Westland, 56, from Tumalo, north of Bend, said he would campaign as a candidate whose “politics defy party labels.”

To qualify for the ballot, he will have to gather more than 18,000 signatures by Aug. 29.

Westlund’s candidacy raises the possibility that he will play a spoiler’s role, such as in 1990, when the independent candidacy of social conservative Al Mobley drew 13 percent of the vote. Many observers believe that prevented Republican Dave Frohnmayer from outpolling Democrat Barbara Roberts in the general election.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Westlund said he has no interest in playing a spoiler’s role and that his own polling shows that he likely would draw votes about evenly from Democratic and Republican voters.

While Oregon has had only one governor elected as an independent - Julius L. Meier, who served a four-year term in the 1930s - Westlund said he thinks it’s “very plausible” that he could emerge as the victor in a three-way race in November.

“We’re in this to win. I’m confident we will have enough financial resources to be very competitive,” he said, adding that he hopes to raise as much as $3 million.

In response to reporters’ questions about Kulongoski, Westlund praised the incumbent governor’s “human” qualities and said he didn’t plan to criticize Kulongoski or any of the other gubernatorial contenders in particular.

Instead, Westlund said he would be running against a political system so bogged down by partisan politics that it’s left Oregon “mired in mediocrity.”

“Oregon’s future can no longer afford to be held hostage in the frontlines of partisan politics,” he said. “Over 600,000 of our citizens don’t have health insurance, and over 10,000 Oregon children go to bed hungry each night. We have one of the shortest school years in the nation, and home prices are outpacing wages.”

As the House budget chief in 2002, he led an effort to cut more than $1 billion from the state budget when tax revenues fell, but he supported a tax increase that voters defeated in 2004. He opposed same-sex marriage on the 2004 ballot, but sponsored legislation in 2005 to legalize marriage-like civil unions for same-sex couples.

Besides his reputation as a political maverick, Westlund also brings a compelling story of personal struggle to the governor’s race.

Westlund was diagnosed with lung cancer in May 2003. He underwent three rounds of surgery, and he says advanced medical scan tests have turned up no sign of cancer.

Westlund is backing ballot measures that would make basic health care a right, create incentives for the alternative energy industry and hike cigarette taxes to provide health insurance to more low-income Oregonians.

Westlund was elected to the Oregon House in 1996 and was appointed to the Senate in 2003, winning the seat in 2004.

One Response to “State Senator Bolts GOP, Launches Bid”

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