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Our Opinion: Generous voters ride political seesaw

The Oregon electorate is locked in a seesaw mode — with Democrats realizing large gains in presidential years, and Republicans having their best chances in midterm elections.

This being a presidential year, Democrats dominated from top to bottom on Tuesday. President Obama won Oregon by a 10-point margin, and Democratic candidates for statewide office cruised to victory. Democrats reclaimed control of the Oregon House of Representatives.

Locally, voters were extremely friendly to tax measures proposed in Portland and Multnomah County.

Tuesday’s results were a contrast from just two years ago, when the GOP won the legislative swing seats it gave back this year, and when Republican Chris Dudley came within an eyelash of defeating John Kitzhaber for governor. This move to the left could be misinterpreted as fickle behavior on the part of voters who seemingly flocked back to Democrats after being more supportive of Republicans in 2010.

We don’t believe, however, that Oregon voters are quite so capricious. The Democratic highs seen in Tuesday’s election were not the product of people’s changing loyalties, but of the turnout generated by a presidential election. When more people vote in Oregon, Democrats and tax measures do better. Within that context, the election results cannot be viewed as a repudiation of Republicans in the Legislature. After all, they weren’t fully in control of either chamber — so what was there to reject?

The lesson for candidates and measure proponents, though, is to pick your election years carefully. For the foreseeable future, Republicans can be most competitive in Oregon during midterm elections, and people who support tax measures will be better off proposing them during presidential years.

Voters generous, but will that last?

The large turnout in Tuesday’s election (statewide turnout was more than 80 percent) certainly benefited the Portland school bonds, the Multnomah County library district and the income tax for arts education. The question going forward is whether voters who participate in elections next year will have the same appetite for tax increases. That’s when a Metro open space measure, renewal of the Portland Children’s Levy and a parks measure for Portland potentially could be on the ballot.

The electorate in an odd-numbered year, however, is likely to behave quite differently than the one that voted on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, approval of the library district should lead to an immediate conversation between Portland Mayor-elect Charlie Hales and Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen about how the district will reduce the city’s property tax revenue, and what the county might do to help mitigate reductions in city services.

Follow through on the basics

Hales’ election as mayor was as clear-cut as they come. At the same time, Commissioner Amanda Fritz received a reaffirmation from voters after facing down a challenge from state Rep. Mary Nolan.

Hales and Fritz will be joined on the City Council by Steve Novick, who won his seat outright in May, and by veteran Commissioners Dan Saltzman and Nick Fish. It’s a strong council that, under Hales’ leadership, ought to follow through on his promise to focus more intensely on the cost and delivery of basic city services.

Clackamas cuts own path

Voters in Clackamas County and in Clark County, Washington, sharply diverged from the trends seen in Portland and Multnomah County.

Clark County, Wash., rejected a sales tax increase to pay for light rail and bus rapid transit. That decision creates a new obstacle for the Columbia River Crossing project, which is supposed to include a MAX extension as well as a new Interstate 5 bridge.

In Clackamas County, two candidates who ran on an anti-Portland, anti-Metro platform won with about 52 percent of the vote. John Ludlow will be the next county chairman after defeating Charlotte Lehan, and Tootie Smith was successful in unseating Commissioner Jamie Damon.

The election is clouded by allegations that a county elections worker altered a handful of ballots. We don’t think the number of ballots in question is sufficient to affect the election’s outcome, but we strongly encourage the Oregon Department of Justice to wrap up an investigation swiftly so there are no lingering doubts.