Loren Parks, the largest campaign donor in Oregon history, reached into his pocketbook again last week. The Nevada businessman gave $30,000 to Greg Barreto, a Republican from Cove and candidate for House District 58.
Barreto, head of his own manufacturing company, is facing off against John Turner of Pendleton in the May 20 Republican primary.
Turner is the former president of Blue Mountain Community College.
The men are vying for the seat Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, is leaving behind in retirement. Heidi Van Schoonhoven of Cove filed to run in the Democratic primary.
Oregon's online database of campaign finance information shows Turner has $27,036 in cash contributions and $17,684.17 cash on hand. Barreto has $53,902 in cash donations, plus $35,000 in campaign loans from himself and his wife, Chris Barreto. He has $67,590.40 cash on hand.
Turner's biggest donations are $5,000 from Jenson's re-election committee and $5,000 from the Oregon branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Barreto has spent more than Turner has made, and a chunk of that paid for big campaign signs along Highway 11 in Athena and Milton-Freewater. He has no such signs in and around Pendleton, while Turner does. Barreto looks to be playing a gambit that banks on his Union County home backing him, then picking up enough votes in Wallowa and Umatilla counties to carry the day.
House District 58 has 34,204 registered voters, according to the Secretary of State, with 9,104 Democrats and 15,577 Republicans. Union County has 6,739 Republicans and Wallowa County has 2,422. The leaves 6,416 GOP-registered voters in the Umatilla County portion of the district, presumably Turner's strongest hold.
La Grande attorney Brent Smith employed a similar strategy against Jenson in the 2012 Republican primary, but that race involved two other candidates. None of the challengers had Jenson's name recognition or political savvy. Jenson won. Union County even went for him over Smith by 22 votes.
Barreto counts all three Union County commissioners as endorsers, along with Union County Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen. Turner has endorsements from Jenson, Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena and David Nelson, former state senator from Pendleton. Turner also announced Oregon Right to Life endorsed him.
Barreto is a tea party member who describes himself as a constitutional traditionalist in favor of limited state government.
Jenson was a moderate Republican who sometimes worked across party lines. A more conservative representative could create some roadblocks for the House-majority Democrats.
While Barreto has the edge in dollars -- at least for now-- Turner probably has the edge in name recognition from his years in public service. He also might pull more traditional Republicans that do not identify with the tea party.
Contact Phil Wright at email@example.com or 541-966-0833.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.