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Capital Chatter: No surprise that Brown is running

The election is more than a year away, but candidates need line up staff and contributors.

To no one's surprise, Democratic Gov. Kate Brown this week announced that she would seek re-election next year. It was a low-key announcement — a YouTube video. Rep. Knute Buehler of Bend, the main Republican challenger so far, also took to social media last month to announce his candidacy.

At this point, does anyone care? Voters probably don't, but potential campaign staff, volunteers and donors do. The 2018 General Election is more than a year away, but candidates need line up campaign workers and contributors.

By launching their campaigns now, candidates also seek to ward off potential opponents.

That's why Senate President Peter Courtney filed for re-election as soon as the official filing period opened. He had told his fellow Democratic senators to do the same; many did. Courtney learned from experience that political dawdling opened the door for opponents.

Waiting for Brown to define her legacy: Political scientist Jim Moore of Pacific University said polls show Oregonians like Brown, "but she has not really put a strong imprint on the governorship."

That view is echoed around the Oregon Capitol by legislators and lobbyists. They wonder why Brown wants to be governor — what she wants to accomplish — because she has not taken on any single big issue as hers. Rather, she has assisted on a variety of legislative issues. She said she would have multiple priorities for the 2018 Legislature.

As for Buehler, Moore said, he remains unknown by most Oregonians despite his legislative work and his statewide campaign against Brown for secretary of state in 2012. She won.

• Oregon looks to status quo: Political scientist Ed Dover, who retired this spring from Western Oregon University, said 2016 was a status quo election in Oregon, and 2018 likely will be as well. That gives incumbent Brown the edge, but she's not invulnerable.

"The right Republican could win, even in a status quo election in this state," Dover said. "The Democratic strength isn't that deep."

Ballot measures, not the governor's race, could gain top billing in voters' minds next year. In low-key races, voters tend to fall back on partisan lines, he said.

• A straight-shooter for health director: Two weeks into the job as acting director of the Oregon Health Authority, Patrick Allen was getting high marks from Democratic and Republican legislators. Days later, Gov. Brown appointed him to the permanent job.

In appearances before legislative committees last week, Allen came across as confident but not arrogant as he talked about establishing a more transparent, accountable culture in OHA leadership. Lawmakers praised him for being straightforward with them during his previous role as director of the state Department of Consumer and Business Services.

Allen does not buy into the oft-quoted management mantra of "Don't bring me a problem unless you also bring me a solution." As an agency director, he told legislators, he wants problems brought to his attention immediately so they can be solved collaboratively instead of festering.

• Hackers test the state: State officials testified about election security during a legislative committee meeting last week. They said millions of potential hacking attempts are blocked each day by technology and humans in the Oregon Secretary of State's Office.

However, Sen. Chuck Riley, D-Hillsboro, complained that the state doesn't have access to the vendors' proprietary computer code used in county elections machines. He said computers could be programmed to alter their code — presumably to act maliciously — and then change back again before being detected.

Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, asked why the state and counties did not hire "white-hat hackers" to test the entire election system for vulnerabilities, starting with electronic voter registrations. State Elections Director Steve Trout cited lack of money as the answer.

• One election uncertainty resolved: There has been more uncertainty about whether Sen. Courtney, D-Salem, would seek reelection than whether Gov. Brown would. Courtney told me he has unfinished business, including fixing K-12 school funding, ensuring seismic upgrades to schools and the Oregon Capitol, and possibly dealing with head injuries from scholastic sports.

Courtney cares deeply the Legislature as an institution. He already is the longest-serving Oregon Senate president in state history.

• Weekend bus service coming to closed Capitol: The massive transportation package passed by the 2017 Legislature includes a payroll tax to finance public transit. That was spurred in part by Salem-area voters' refusal to approve property tax levies for Saturday and extended weeknight service.

Thanks to the new payroll tax, the Salem Area Mass Transit District — known as Cherriots — plans to add weekend service in January 2019. This means more jobs for bus drivers as well as improved transportation for area residents, business employees and visitors in Oregon's capital.

An ironic twist: Despite being a tourist attraction, the Oregon Capitol remains closed on most weekends. Lawmakers say staffing it on weekends would cost too much.

Dick Hughes has reported on the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com, Facebook.com/Hughesisms, YouTube.com/c/DickHughes or on Twitter @DickHughes.

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