Linn and Benton commissioners will choose from Close, Mullins and Johnson
A former legislator from North Albany, a well-known business leader from Corvallis and an insurance agent from Albany have made the short list to succeed Frank Morse as the state senator for District 8.
Commissioners of the two counties embraced by the district, Linn and Benton, will meet next week to make a final selection.
In a nominating convention that ran into the early hours of Wednesday morning, 66 Republican precinct committee persons selected Betsy Close, Larry Mullins and Clinton Johnson from a slate of nine candidates to replace Morse, who resigned last month with two years left on his term.
Close served three terms in the Oregon House, representing District 15 from 1999 to 2005, and was the GOP nominee for secretary of state in 2004. She is currently running for a seat on the Benton County Board of Commissioners.
Mullins is the chief executive officer of Samaritan Health Services, a nonprofit corporation that operates a network of hospitals and medical clinics in Linn, Benton and Lincoln counties.
Johnson is a Navy vet and former Hewlett-Packard employee who now sells insurance in his father’s Corvallis agency, Verne Johnson State Farm.
Morse, a North Albany Republican, had represented District 8 in the Oregon Senate for 10 years. His unexpected retirement triggered a 30-day process to find another Republican to fill out the remainder of his term.
Now that three nominees have been chosen, the next step in the process will happen next Wednesday, when the six county commissioners from District 8 will meet to vote on which of the three nominees will succeed Morse.
In an ironic twist, the three Benton County commissioners — all Democrats — have more say in the decision than their Republican counterparts in Linn County. That's because the votes are apportioned based on the number of registered GOP voters in the parts of the district within each county, and Benton has a 3-to-2 edge.
If the commissioners are unable to settle the matter by vote, the decision goes to Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat.
To qualify as Morse's successor, all candidates had to be registered Republicans who live within District 8.
The three finalists were chosen in a sometimes boisterous convention at a small conference facility at the Corvallis Comfort Suites hotel.
It began at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, but it took two hours of wrangling over rules and procedures before the nine candidates could begin giving their five-minute presentations and field questions from the audience.
Each of the 66 committee persons in attendance had a certain number of votes based on the number of registered party members in their precincts. Each delegate voted for five nominees, but to make the cut, each nominee had to receive 50 percent of the available votes plus one, or 8,091.86 votes.
The first ballots were cast shortly after 11 p.m., and it was close to 12:45 Wednesday morning before the tally came back.
Johnson polled the most votes, with 11,997.91, followed by Close with 10,452.83 and Mullins with 9,379.79. Stanley Baker, a Corvallis grass seed distributor, was a close fourth with 8,008.14, falling just below the cutoff.
The other candidates were Corvallis sales office clerk Andrew Decker, former Philomath Mayor Van Hunsaker, Corvallis car dealer Al Hutchinson, Corvallis small business owner Jeff Jimmerson and retired Corvallis restaurant owner George Mears.
The delegates could have chosen up to five nominees but voted unanimously to close the voting after the first ballot.
Contact reporter Bennett Hall at email@example.com or 541-758-9529.