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Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer Explains Why She Sent an Email That Roiled Oregon’s Democratic Party Days Before the Election

It was a bombshell in the typically go-along, get-along world of party politics in Oregon.

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No contest in the May 19 election includes higher stakes, stronger feelings or more spending than the Democratic primary for Oregon secretary of state.

It's that last aspect that troubles state Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer (D-Portland).

In the early hours of May 7, Keny-Guyer sent an email to state Sen. Shemia Fagan (D-Portland), a longtime political ally and one of the three leading candidates in the race.

Fagan is running against Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a lawyer and natural resources consultant from Terrebone, and state Sen. Mark Hass (D-Beaverton). Although she entered the race only in late February, Fagan has since received more money from organized labor than either of her opponents has raised altogether. In fact, 79 percent of the $734,000 Fagan has raised has come from public employee unions.

In her email, which WW obtained and published, Keny-Guyer, who has endorsed McLeod-Skinner and given her nearly $10,000 from her campaign committee, aired her dismay not just at the amount and origins of Fagan's donations, but also the tactics used by her campaign.

"In addition to the obscene amounts of money from so few sources going into your campaign, now there is an Independent Expenditure [funded by public employee unions] cleverly called OREGONIANS FOR BALLOT ACCESS, made to 'appear' neutral since it offers one example of an endorsement for Mark and two for Jamie," wrote Keny-Guyer, who is stepping down next year after four terms. "It is the first website that appears when you google any of the three candidate names."

That challenge by a Democratic stalwart was a bombshell in the typically go-along, get-along world of party politics in Oregon.

In a conversation with WW editor Mark Zusman this week, Keny-Guyer provided more context for her email. She will support whichever Democrat wins the primary election, she says. She's most troubled by the campaign spending of wealthy individuals, and thinks labor dollars can provide a useful counterbalance.

But Keny-Guyer said she stands by the concerns she voiced to Fagan.

In the interview, she discusses why candidates for secretary of state should rise above partisan tactics, what disturbed her enough to put her concerns into an email, and why the stakes of this race are so high.