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Our Opinion: Voters should demand better choices

The general election that ended Tuesday won’t be fondly remembered in Oregon for exciting statewide candidates, stimulating policy debates or honest campaigning.

We wouldn’t go as far as to say the 2014 election represents a low point in Oregon democracy — the state has been treading in shallow political water for a while. But the overall tenor of the campaign was disappointing and the results were mostly predictable from the outset.

For Oregon Republicans, this election was an opportunity squandered. Midterm elections have been kind to the GOP in Oregon during the past two cycles — but not this year. Democrats hit their peak every four years when turnout swells for presidential elections. Republicans get their chance during the lower-turnout midterm contests, and they should have risen to the challenge in 2014, as the GOP did in many other states.

Instead, Oregon Republicans sent forward a candidate for governor who, as pollster Tim Hibbitts puts it, was “too fusty” for Oregon. And they nominated a U.S. Senate candidate who at first appeared capable of posing a credible threat to Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, but then was derailed by a series of missteps and troubling, if minor, revelations about her personal behavior.

Republicans also failed to maximize their potential to reclaim seats in the Oregon Legislature that were lost in 2012. This time around, they essentially forfeited at least two House races in East Multnomah County that traditionally have been competitive.

The 2014 results should prompt the Oregon Republican Party to recruit better candidates at all levels and begin developing a stronger bench for statewide offices. Oregon is in danger of becoming a one-party state, and that’s never good for democracy or effective government.

While Republicans contemplate what went wrong in this campaign, Oregonians are faced with the prospect of weak executive leadership for the next four years. Gov. John Kitzhaber will start an unprecedented fourth term as perhaps the lamest of lame ducks in state history.

Even without the damage caused by the recent Cylvia Hayes’ scandals, Kitzhaber already was burdened with his Cover Oregon website failure and other hangovers from his previous term. Going forward, his administration will be hit with further investigations and possibly additional revelations.

The distractions will continue, which means Kitzhaber’s ability to rally support for big, new initiatives will disappear. His best hope will be to maintain progress the state is already making in the areas of health care and education reform.

Oregon voters would have welcomed better choices this time around, and we hope they would have responded to more truthful campaigning.

The 2014 election was marred by the usual attack ads that arrive in mailboxes and over the airwaves, but two campaigns take the prize for dishonest tactics.

From the far left came the ludicrous suggestion that having open primaries in Oregon (as proposed by Measure 90) would lead to Rush Limbaugh selecting the candidates. And from the far right came the unfounded claim that issuing drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants (as proposed by Measure 88) would increase the chances of terrorism.

Both campaigns prevailed, but they sacrificed the truth along the way. They should be ashamed for that — yet, they instead are basking in victories won with scare tactics instead of substance.

To some degree, that’s become the political norm in Oregon as well as other states. The ends justify the meanness of modern campaigns — and that’s very likely another reason why the quality of candidates isn’t as high as it could be.

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