Despite a relatively low turnout rate, the election that wrapped up yesterday featured some results that will have lasting impacts for years to come. One of the most intriguing developments has been the shift in political strategy by the state’s top conservative campaign donors.
Last week, we outlined this shift: conservative donors appear to have largely abandoned statewide races, and instead are focusing on local races, starting in Clackamas County.
Money from Loren Parks, Oregon Transformation Project (controlled by Spam King Dennis Richardson) and big timber companies (primarily Stimson Lumber) poured into Clackamas County to fund their slate of conservative candidates for the county commission. The groups poured nearly $300,000 into the county positions; $200,000 of this went to candidate John Ludlow’s bid for County Chair.
The goal, apparently, is to use local races like this one to start pushing conservative political positions, since they have such difficulty passing them at the state level.
The strategy, led by the Oregon Transformation Project, appears to have paid off.
As reported by the Oregonian, with 90% of Clackamas County ballots counted, Transformation Project candidate Ludlow scored the most votes out of four candidates for chair and will move on to a runoff in November. They also succeeded in using their cash to bury former House Speaker Dave Hunt, who placed fourth.
Despite Hunt’s long history in the county—he represented Gladstone in five terms at the legislature—and strong business background, Hunt became Public Enemy Number One for some members of the corporate lobby. As Speaker of the House, he helped pass legislation raising the $10 corporate minimum tax and increasing the tax rates on high-income households in order to pay for schools and basic services.
That decision was backed up by a wide majority of Oregon voters when they passed Measures 66 and 67 in 2010, but corporate lobbyists never dropped their grudge.
Oregon Transformation Project also scored a victory with Tootie Smith, their candidate for one of the Clackamas Commission seats. Smith, perhaps best known this election cycle for auctioning off a 9mm Glock pistol for campaign contributions, received nearly $50,000 in contributions from the Oregon Transformation Project; she too will move on to the November runoff.
Elsewhere, Loren Parks and the Oregon Transformation Project dropped money into the GOP primary race between State Sen. Chris Telfer and former legislator Tim Knopp. Transformation Project gave Knopp $10,000, and Parks gave him $25,000. The race was also a priority for business lobbyist Mark Nelson—perhaps not surprisingly, many of the largest corporate interests in the state (and out of the state) donated big to Knopp’s campaign. The infamous Koch Industries even pitched in $5,000.
Because of the flood of right-wing dollars, Knopp outspent Telfer 3-1. The result, again, was a big payoff. Knopp won the primary by a margin of more than 2-1.