March 19th, 2012 4:49 pm | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: Politics, PDX Votes, Legislature

Bombshell: Labor Commissioner Race Pushed to November

Bruce StarrBruce Starr

State Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) received what he calls "stunning" news late Friday. Starr is challenging incumbent Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian in a nonpartisan, statewide contest that both men expected to appear on the May 15 primary ballot.

But when a Starr aide called the state Elections Division late Friday to confirm receipt of Starr's check and  statement for the Voters' Pamphlet, that aide received a shock.

"The certified May ballot does not have my name on it, nor Brad's," Starr told WW. "They said, 'We are sending back your check and statement—the election is in November.' My reaction was disbelief. I said, 'You are kidding me—how can this be?'"

Starr says an Elections Division official told his campaign staffer that the issue is a 2009 law aimed at realigning the elections cycle so that three of the six statewide offices would appear on the ballot every two years. To achieve that shift, the labor commissioner's term after 2012 was shortened from four to two years and the election moved from May to November.

Here's the statutory language that is causing the confusion:

the term of office of the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries elected at the general election held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November 2012 shall be two years.

Starr says nobody ever told him that until Friday.

The widely held assumption was that the race for the labor post would be decided in May. On his website, for instance, Avakian writes, "Help me win in May and continue fighting for Oregon's middle class by endorsing my campaign." (On the state's ORESTAR system, which keeps track of candidate filings, both men are registered to run in the May primary.)

Starr says he believes the 2009 specification that the election be held in November is an unintentional error. "It’s very clear that nonpartisan races should be on the ballot in May," Starr says. "Precedent is on our side and I think the law is on our side."

He has asked the Oregon Department of Justice, which provides legal advice to state agencies, including the Elections Division, to review the 2009 statute and clarify the situation. "We are hoping that the Secretary of State with help from the AG will help get this election back on track," Starr says.

Pushing the election from May to November could affect the outcome of what many expect to be a close race. Both candidates are from Washington County and have run in numerous cycles before, but recent elections history suggests there could be a large voter turnout in November in support of President Barack Obama. That favors Avakian.

Starr says he has no reason to believe partisanship was involved in the decision to bump his race to the fall. "I hope it's just an inadvertent mistake," he says.

Andrea Cantu-Schomus, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Kate Brown, who oversees the Elections Division, says Starr was informed correctly.

"The race for labor commissioner will not be on the May ballot," Cantu-Schomus told WW. "This is a one-time deal to reset the election cycle."

Hiram Sachs, Avakian's campaign manager, says the change is news to him. "I think the election is in May," Sachs told WW just after 4 pm on Monday.
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