Oregon voters chose carefully this election

While the outcome of the presidential election left many gasping in disbelief, Oregon voters delivered few surprises. At both the state and local levels, the results of Tuesday's ballot counting showed voters thoughtfully weighed measures and evaluated candidates.

Statewide, voters left both houses of the Legislature in Democratic hands, but denied those lawmakers an easy fix for the state's budget problems by defeating Ballot Measure 97. The initiative, backed by labor unions and liberal interest groups, would have raised $3 billion a year by levying a 2.5 percent tax on the gross receipts of corporations with more than $25 million in Oregon sales.

What that means is the 2017 Legislature will have to come up with its own solutions to the looming unfunded liability in the Public Employees Retirement System while tackling Oregon's woefully low high school graduation rates and growing enrollment in the Oregon Health Plan.

At the same time, voters approved measures to require funding of dropout prevention and career  education for high school students, OK'd lottery funding to allow every school district to offer Outdoor School to fifth- and sixth-graders, and allowed the state's newly independent universities to invest their money in equities markets to better control their own finances.

Voters also said yes to lottery funding for support services to help Oregon's veterans obtain federal benefits to which they are entitled. One surprising result was the lopsided defeat of a measure to lift the mandatory retirement age for the state's judges, a rule that prevents jurists over 75 from continuing to work and help relieve backlogs of court cases.

As is usually the case, voters elected Democrats to statewide offices, with one notable exception: Southern Oregon's own Dennis Richardson, a conservative Republican, appears to have been elected secretary of state on the strength of his pledge to be a prudent fiscal watchdog and a responsible administrator of the state's elections. Richardson defeated career politician Brad Avakian, who saw the office as an opportunity to push his progressive agenda in a position that has little to do with policy.

On the local level, voters stayed with candidates they knew well. The mayors of Central Point, Medford, Jacksonville and Ashland all won re-election despite strong challenges. In Medford, the City Council members who sought re-election were successful. Newcomers to the council bring solid backgrounds and a diversity of approaches that should benefit the city, and two of the new councilors are women, adding gender diversity that had been lacking in recent years.

Medford voters rejected a proposed ban on retail sales of recreational marijuana and approved a local option 3 percent tax on the drug, but voted to ban all outdoor growing in residential neighborhoods. That's a recognition of the reality of legalization and the revenue potential the city would give up by banning sales, but a rejection of outdoor cultivation, which has led to some neighborhood conflicts over odors from medical marijuana growing.

The local legislative delegation will change a bit, with Republican Alan DeBoer narrowly defeating Democrat Tonia Moro in their race to succeed the late Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford. Senate District 3 races have been extremely close in the last two elections, and this contest was no different.

Democrat Pam Marsh defeated Republican Steven Richie for the House District 5 seat being vacated by Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, won re-election to his District 6 seat, defeating Democrat Mike Moran.

Oregon continues to climb out of the recession that battered the state's economy, and that recovery is not yet complete. The Southern Oregon delegation and its colleagues around the state will have their work cut out for them when the Legislature convenes in 2017.

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