Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Westlund quits GOP; Running for Goobernor?

In a move sure to light Lars Larson's ample locks to flame, State Senator Ben Westlund (Bend) has ditched the GOP:

State Sen. Ben Westlund says he's quitting the Republican Party, a move that could pave the way for him to run for governor as an independent.

"There are things about both parties I like, but I don't fit neatly into either one of them," Westlund said in an interview published Tuesday in The Bulletin newspaper of Bend.

Westlund, 56, wouldn't comment on a run for governor, but he has been touring the state. He spoke to teachers in Medford on Monday night.

Unlike candidates from major parties, independents do not need to secure a nomination in the May 16 primary. To run for governor, Westlund would have to gather signatures from at least 18,368 voters by Aug. 29.

Westlund is one of those independent guys who have a tendency to piss off the status quo conservative Oregon GOP. It sounds like they might be just as eager to jettison him as he is to cut the apron strings:

Among Deschutes County Republicans, there were rumblings of a recall attempt in 2005. That didn't materialize, but Westlund said it influenced his decision.

"As I continued to examine my role in the party, it became clear to me that it just wasn't a good fit and wasn't intellectually honest," he said. "They're unhappy with me half the time, I'm unhappy with them half the time."

Jackie Ehlers, secretary of the local Republicans, said Monday the move could be detrimental to Westlund in a future election.

Given that Westlund won his senate seat in 2004 with 69.55% of the vote, Ehlers prediction seems a bit pie-in-the-sky. Not that the GOP won't go after Westlund hard, they will.

But Deschutes County is a state that voted 58% for liberal Senator Ron Wyden in 2004. That's better than the Bush/Cheney ticket received from the region. Deschutes County seems primed to move to the moderately purple column. Its hard to imagine Westlund not enjoying continued success with elections.