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PNS Daily Newscast - September 24, 2020 


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NE Oregon Turns Party-Line Politics on its Ear

May 20, 2010

PENDLETON, Ore. - In Tuesday's primary elections, two eastern Oregon incumbents defied the wishes of their own party...by winning. Reps. Bob Jenson, Pendleton, and Greg Smith, Heppner - both moderate Republicans - had been targeted for defeat by the GOP because they voted for a measure that raised taxes on higher-income Oregonians. In what is traditionally conservative Republican country, East Oregonian Managing Editor Skip Nichols says the fact that Jenson and Smith were not ousted is testament to the voters' independent streak.

"They will make their decisions based on what they hear the candidates say. They don't want the 'west side,' if you will - whether it's Republicans or Democrats or Independents - telling them how to vote."

Nichols thinks Smith won in District 57 by putting more miles on his truck and seeing more people, even making appearances at opposition Tea Party events. Bob Jenson's District 58 race was much closer, but Nichols says Jenson's long-time support for education, health care and senior issues earned him endorsements from a number of groups, including SEIU Local 503 and the Oregon AFL-CIO.

Ultimately, the incumbents' longevity and reputations trumped party-line politics. At least, that's the view of Jeff Mapes, political columnist for The Oregonian.

"In eastern Oregon, personal relationships really count for a lot. It's a geographically huge area - bigger than all of New England - but not many people. Both Greg Smith and Bob Jenson live there and have represented the area for a long time, and they've built up a lot of relationships over the years."

In their campaigns, both Smith and Jenson have said they followed their consciences on controversial tax votes, to bring more money into state coffers to protect education and other public services in their districts. GOP leadership has said it will continue to watch both men carefully.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR