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Oregon voters go their own way

While the Republican Party was taking control of the U.S. Senate and padding its majority in Congress on Tuesday, Oregon voters, as is often the case, had other ideas.

The Oregon Legislature stayed firmly in the hands of the Democrats, who added to their Senate majority and retained control of the House. A Democratic governor, battered by a badly managed health care enrollment system and questions about his fiancee's past and her present role in his administration, fended off a spirited challenge from a staunch conservative to win an unprecedented fourth term by a bigger margin than in 2010.

The presence of a marijuana legalization measure and a GMO labeling initiative on the ballot may have helped boost participation from Democratic-leaning voters. The marijuana measure passed easily, but neither a strong turnout nor the $8 million spent by supporters — a record in favor of a ballot measure — could save the GMO measure from the $20 million campaign waged against it by major corporations. Measure 92 was trailing by 1.2 percent Wednesday morning.

The results in Jackson County were more mixed.

State Sen. Alan Bates of Medford, seen as perhaps the most vulnerable incumbent Democrat in a swing district, beat back a second challenge from Dave Dotterrer. Bates, who bested Dotterrer in 2010 by just 282 votes, won this time by nearly 4,000. A flood of negative attack ads from Dotterrer's campaign and from independent groups supporting him may have backfired with many voters.

While Jackson County voters followed the lead of their upstate counterparts in some races — GMO labeling and legal marijuana both passed here — voters elected two Republicans to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, one an anti-government conservative.

Colleen Roberts posted a strong victory over moderate Democrat Kevin Talbert, running as the Independent Party nominee after no Democrat filed for the primary election. Because no Democrat appeared in the primary, write-in votes from a few Democrats meant Roberts was listed as both the Republican and Democratic nominee on the general election ballot. It's hard to know whether some voters marked her name without knowing her views, but the undervote in the race — nearly 12,000 voters skipped it — dwarfed the 7,000-vote margin between Roberts and Talbert, indicating significant confusion.

Roberts and Rick Dyer will join Doug Breidenthal on the board in January. Like Roberts, Breidenthal in his campaign two years ago advocated constitutionally questionable actions such as seizing control of public forest land from the federal government. He has been less vocal about that issue since joining the board, but Roberts' election will mean two of the three commissioners share those views. Roberts also professes a desire to shrink county spending even beyond the frugal levels now in place. 

Jackson County has been one of the best-run counties in the state as timber subsidies dwindled over the past decade. County jobs were cut as budgets shrank, but previous boards did a good job of building up reserves. More recently, the county has stayed on solid financial footing while others in the region faltered, even managing to expand jail capacity and build a health and human services building that will pay for itself and wind up making money for the county in the long term.

The challenge for the newly elected board will be to continue that savvy management and build on the foundation that has been laid. Marching in and imposing spending cuts for the sake of spending cuts will not serve the interests of county residents.