Wu’s resignation following allegations of sexual misconduct gives voters in Oregon’s 1st Congressional District an overdue chance to replace him. (In his 12 years in office, Wu managed to sponsor exactly two bills that actually passed, according to govtrack.us.)
Democrats and Republicans will choose their nominees in a Nov. 8 primary, and voters choose the winner in a general election Jan. 31.
The victor won’t get much of a break. He or she must defend the seat three months later in the regular May 2012 primary and general election the following November.
The good news is the 1st District is a prize worth fighting for, the state’s bright spot amid Oregon’s general economic gloom.
Over the past three decades, Washington County, which dominates the district, has added 127,000 private-sector jobs, state figures show. That’s nearly twice as many as Multnomah County.
The 1st District has more manufacturing jobs than any of Oregon’s other congressional districts, Census data show. And those jobs pay well. Median household income in Washington County in 2009 was $61,000, about $10,000 higher than in Multnomah County.
The district is home to many of Oregon’s largest and best-known private employers: Intel, Nike, Columbia Sportswear, Solarworld and Genentech. The district is also home to the state’s richest man, Phil Knight, whose fortune Forbes pegs at greater than $12 billion, and to Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle, whose company stock is worth more than $700 million.
Thanks to redistricting, most of the tony Pearl District and Southwest Portland, the city’s wealthiest section, is in the district. (The special election will be run using the existing boundaries. The new lines will take effect beginning with the 2012 primary.)
But the 1st District is not just about semiconductors, solar panels, running shoes and high-end condos. The Clatsop and Tillamook state forests supplied a big chunk of the nearly 300 million board feet of state-owned timber cut last year. Seafood processors provide jobs in Astoria.
What most of the district has in common is trade. Oregon ranks seventh in the nation for its economic reliance on trade, and the 1st District counts on imports and exports to an unusual degree.
“It’s hard to find congressional districts in this country that are more trade dependent,” says Oregon Business Association President Ryan Deckert. “I think you could count them on two hands.”
For Republicans, capturing the 1st District is harder than winning the governor’s office. Oregon last elected a GOP governor in 1982, but the 1st District has not sent a Republican to Congress since 1972.
Six-term incumbent Wu, who resigned in August, was no political giant. But after squeaking past Republican Molly Bordonaro in 1998, Wu never faced another close race.
Even after a 2004 Oregonian investigation of Wu’s alleged date rape of a college girlfriend, he defeated GOP challenger Goli Ameri by 20 percentage points.
Part of Wu’s success came from Democrats’ increasing registration advantage over Republicans.
Republicans have also repeatedly nominated weak candidates. Except for former State Rep. Derrick Kitts (R-Hillsboro) in 2006, recent GOP nominees have come into their races with little political experience or name recognition.
In 2010, Rob Cornilles, a political newcomer who owns a Tualatin sports-marketing firm, challenged Wu. Cornilles, 47, earned The Oregonian’s endorsement but lost to Wu by 13 percentage points.
Now, Cornilles is back, running as a “job creator.” Although his company, Game Face Marketing, which helps pro and college teams sell sports tickets, has just five employees, Cornilles claims he’s trained or found jobs for hundreds since 1995.
Game Face has had a couple of hiccups. In 2003, as the Forest Grove News-Times first reported, the company settled Bureau of Labor and Industries complaints by three Game Face trainees who alleged they’d worked hundreds of hours without being paid. Cornilles denies wrongdoing, but he paid the three about $9,000 to avoid litigation.
What’s never been reported is Game Face later encountered a more serious problem. Although Cornilles boasts, “For 162 months we’ve met a payroll,” records show that in May 2007, the Internal Revenue Service filed an $83,000 federal tax lien against his company for failing to make 2006 tax withholdings.
Cornilles says an inexperienced bookkeeper neglected to make the required payments. After discovering the problem, he paid off the lien in August 2007. (He says his company has regularly been profitable. Last year he disclosed personal assets of between $8 million and $49 million—primarily his wife’s property investments).
Cornilles is pro-life and opposes gay marriage. But in a district with a Democratic registration edge, he’s trying hard to establish street cred as a moderate. He refused, for example, to sign the “no new taxes” pledge many federal GOP candidates have inked.
That’s not the case with Cornilles’ most serious rival. Tigard property investor Jim Greenfield, 64, won the 2002 GOP nomination but lost to Wu 63 percent to 34 percent. A constitutionalist who says he arrived at tea party principles 20 years ago, Greenfield boasts two Ivy League degrees (Cornell undergrad and Penn for law school), but other than the 2002 race, he’s kept a low political profile. He’s only raised about $5,000 for this race.
Cornilles’ platform is thin, but he’s run an active campaign, raising more than $500,000, and would be a credible opponent to the winning Democrat.
We give Cornilles our primary election endorsement.
Lisa Michaels, 51, a tea party activist and ad saleswoman who most recently ran unsuccessfully for the Tualatin Valley Parks and Recreation District board, is also in the race, as are Pavel Goberman and DR Delgado-Morgan.