State Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) this morning filed a lawsuit (PDF) in Marion County Court, asking a judge there to order Secretary of State Kate Brown to place Starr's challenge to incumbent Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian on the May ballot.
As WW first reported yesterday, both Starr and Avakian have been working under the assumption that they would face each other in the May primary. Theirs is a non-partisan race and normally, non-partisan statewide races are on the May primary ballot. The Orestar candidate filing system, which Secretary of State Kate Brown oversees, showed both candidates registered for the May ballot.
For instance, in 2010, then incumbent State Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo faced then-State Rep. Ron Maurer (R-Grants Pass ) on the May ballot. And in 1998, when there were last only two Labor Commissioner candidates facing each other, Jack Roberts (a Republican although running nonpartisan) faced Mike Fahey (a Democrat) on the May ballot.
Greg Chaimov, one of the lawyers representing Starr and former legislative counsel, says one of the perplexing aspects of Brown's decision is that nobody in her office informed either candidate of her decision until the only remedy was a lawsuit.
"What is disconcerting is that she did not notify the candidates until after she had certified the May ballot," Chaimov says.
The websites of both candidates made it clear they expected a May contest. Ballots are scheduled to be printed March 31, so Starr's lawsuit seeks an expedited response.
Updated at 10:26 am
In a statement released Tuesday morning, Starr accused Brown, a Democrat, of making a political decision to benefit Avakian, a fellow Democrat. The widely held belief is that a low-turnout election in May favors Starr but an election in November, when the presidential candidates will be on the ballot, favors Avakian.
“It’s outrageous that the Democrat Secretary of State cheated to create an advantage for a political friend,” said Starr in his statement. “This is just another example of a political machine attempting to control politics in Oregon.”
Brown's spokeswoman, Andrea Cantu-Schomus, says neither Brown nor her staff can comment because the lawsuit is pending.
Updated at 4:00 pm
Brown issued the following statement this afternoon:
"State Senator Bruce Starr has filed a lawsuit against me as Oregon’s Secretary of State. While attorneys usually ask we not comment on pending litigation, I refuse to stay silent. The allegations about my character are outrageous and unfounded.
The decision to elect Oregon’s Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries in November 2012 was made by the Oregon Legislature in 2009. Nearly three years ago, long before anyone knew who would be on the ballot, the Legislature overwhelmingly passed House Bill 2095. In Section 22a of the bill it clearly states that the next BOLI Commissioner would be elected in November and for a two-year term. This is a unique statute that created a shortened term with a one-time application that speaks for itself.
This is an issue of election law, not politics. Those who would try to score political points at the expense of questioning what is very clear as a matter of law are doing a disservice to democracy. I take my job as Secretary of State very seriously and treat all candidates for office fairly and equally, without regard to party affiliation. I dedicate every day to doing my job to the best of my ability by serving all Oregonians, and ensuring fair, accurate and transparent elections. Allegations to the contrary are offensive and false."