Oregon: Ben Westlund Quits GOP, Will Run for Governor as Independent

Oregon State Senator Ben Westlund of Tumalo has announced he is quitting the Republican Party to campaign for the state's governorship as an Independent.

The Bend Bulletin:
In his career, Ben Westlund has been known by many labels.

Rancher. Legislator. Innovator. Addict.

Tax reform advocate. Consensus builder.

Republican in Name Only.

Tuesday, the state senator from Tumalo added to that list - and with a title that could shake up Oregon politics: independent candidate for governor.

In two press conferences Tuesday, one in Bend and one at the Capitol, Westlund stood with his family and announced his intent to take Oregon in a new direction.

"Paralyzing partisanship is keeping us from the challenges of our day," he said. "I cannot stand for that, and I hope you can't either."

After the Bend speech, he walked upstairs to the Deschutes County Clerk's Office and switched his party affiliation from Republican to independent. ...

The Oregonian:
Westlund, who has been in the Legislature since 1997, now must gather 18,368 signatures from Oregon voters by Aug. 29 to qualify for the ballot. Under a new state law, the signatures must come from people who don't cast a vote in a party primary.

His announcement stirred an immediate and intense political debate about whether his moderate stands might suck votes away from a Democrat or whether his conservative voting record would hamper the Republican.

"What's clear now is there's going to be two Republicans in the general election," said Cameron Johnson, campaign manager for incumbent Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat who is seeking re-election.

Naomi Inman, spokeswoman for Kevin Mannix, a Republican candidate, predicted Westlund would appeal most to Democratic voters, despite his longtime standing as a Republican.

Citing his past support for a sales tax, Inman said, "We just think he's another liberal in the race." ...

Oregon gay rights activists remember Westlund's name from the SB 1000 cmpaign. Basic Rights Oregon:
Friday, May 20, 2005

Republican Sen. Ben Westlund of Bend has been flooded with phone calls, mail, e-mail and facsimiles attacking him for his support of SB 1000, a measure that would allow same-sex Oregon couples to form civil unions and protect gay, lesbian and transgender individuals from discrimination. The Source Weekly submitted a freedom of information act request to Westlund’s office asking it to provide us with one day’s worth of e-mails on the topic—which are legally considered public records when they deal with public business. Westlund’s office complied. ...

Go to the BRO link for a selection.

Gay Rights Watch is also covering Westlund.

This story is a couple of days old but I'm going to be following it closely here at Dreams Into Lightning, not only because of the gay rights angle but also because I'm interested in Westlund's candidacy all around. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, please visit Ben Westlund for Governor - official site.