State Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell’s decision to bow out just before the filing deadline in March upended state House District 32.
The Astoria Democrat, elected in 2018, has had an eventful time in Salem. She took difficult votes on cap and trade and pension reform, faced a recall drive from #TimberUnity and even donated a kidney.
While Mitchell was still learning her way politically, we were impressed she did not hide from tough questions, either from us or voters at town halls.
Her choice not to run for reelection — her husband is taking a job in Washington state — created an open seat in a district that covers Clatsop and swaths of Tillamook and Washington counties.
FuturePAC, the campaign arm of House Democrats, quickly pivoted to Debbie Boothe-Schmidt, a trial assistant with Clatsop County, for the May primary.
George Kiepke, a former Clatsop County commissioner, also entered the primary at the last minute.
On the Republican side, Tillamook Mayor Suzanne Weber is facing Vineeta Lower, an online educator in Seaside who lost to Mitchell two years ago.
The coronavirus pandemic interrupted life at a time when the candidates would have been out campaigning, depriving voters of many opportunities to make side-by-side comparisons.
The candidates agreed to interviews via GoToMeeting with The Astorian’s editorial board.
Our criteria for state House is more pragmatic than partisan. We believe legislators who represent rural areas have a greater responsibility to serve as advocates for their districts, not ideologues for their political parties.
People who live in the Portland metro area have multiple legislators looking out for their interests in the state House. The North Coast has one.
We want someone who can find ways to be effective no matter which party or faction is in power in Salem.
We endorse Boothe-Schmidt.
Her experience in government and small business gives her the potential to balance competing interests. She works as a trial assistant for the district attorney’s office and has been active with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. She is the co-owner of Phog Bounders Antique Mall in Astoria.
Last year, she was elected to the board of the Sunset Empire Transportation District, the county’s bus system. She serves as the board chairwoman.
Her priorities are housing, health care and job growth.
“I want to go to Salem. I want to do a good job,” she said. “I want to make sure that the North Coast is getting what we need and what our working families deserve.”
Boothe-Schmidt says she believes climate change is impacting the environment but said she does not know how she would have voted on cap and trade, an issue that dominated the past two legislative sessions.
Her indecision is distressing. Anyone running for state House or Senate should be able to say publicly where they stand on this topic.
We’re also concerned about her independence, given her union background representing government workers and the fact she was hand-picked by House Democrats to step in after Mitchell’s exit.
We hope, if she wins the primary, she will craft a more detailed and well-rounded message for the November election.
Kiepke, a retired maintenance supervisor, moved back to the county a few years ago after living in Utah. He served on the county commission two decades ago and is well-versed in public policy, but his relevant experience is dated.
He said he does not like the direction of politics and believes he would be a unifying voice that could break some of the stalemates in Salem. He would have voted “no” on cap and trade, which he views as an unfair burden on businesses and taxpayers.
We endorse Weber.
The retired elementary school teacher has served for the past decade as the mayor of Tillamook. She was elected mayor after several years on the Tillamook City Council. She has also helped run a cake and catering business and a retail store with her sister-in-law.
Her experience as an elected official in a nonpartisan office, along with the kind of determination small-town mayors often need to be heard at the county and state levels, could prepare her well for a state House controlled by Democrats.
Asked to name a project she is proud of, Weber pointed to her help luring a Pelican Brewing taproom and production facility to Tillamook in 2013, a catalyst for growth downtown.
“If you want something done, and you feel that you have the passion for it, and you have the ability to get it done, and you see that there is a deficit, it’s your responsibility to step up and take part in that,” she said of her decision to run for state House.
Weber would have voted against cap and trade, calling the legislation “a travesty” that would have led to higher fuel costs and harmed North Coast industries that depend on trucking to get products to market.
While we were supportive of the new version of cap and trade this year, we share concerns about the potentially disproportionate effect on rural counties.
We are less encouraged by some of Weber’s predictably dogmatic views on taxes and government regulation and her reliance on tagging North Coast Democrats with a “Portland agenda.”
The rhetoric might sound persuasive, but Democrats have held House District 32 since 2002 for a reason. Weber’s best argument is that she could be effective in working both sides of the aisle for the district’s benefit.
Lower, an English teacher for an online school, lost a close race to Mitchell two years ago. She continues to show a commitment to local issues in her community, serving on the Seaside Transportation Advisory Commission and the Seaside Tree Board.
She describes herself as a conservative Republican who would prioritize lower taxes, the Second Amendment, veterans, the timber industry and parental rights against mandatory vaccination. She would have voted against cap and trade.
Her agenda, in our view, is too partisan and would marginalize the North Coast’s voice in Salem.