Oregon Secretary of State
Shemia Fagan (D)
We're uncomfortable with where the GOP nominee, state Sen. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer), stands on a variety of issues. Thatcher, 55, announced her candidacy at a Timber Unity rally against climate change legislation, said she was uncertain whether antifa started recent wildfires; and joined her GOP colleagues repeatedly in walking out of the Capitol to shut down the Legislature.
Our objection to Thatcher, who has served in Salem since 2005, is not that she's a Republican.
Oregon has benefited from two successive Republican secretaries of state—the late Dennis Richardson (whom WW endorsed), who died in office last year, and his appointed replacement, Bev Clarno. Both conducted constructive audits of the Democratic establishment, safeguarded the state's vote-by-mail system, and vouched for its reliability.
As President Donald Trump attacked voting by mail, Oregon secretaries of state prominently presented the counterpoint: Republicans with integrity who believe in the system that enfranchises more Oregonians.
But Thatcher would not assume that mantle. In our endorsement interview, Thatcher appeared disingenuous in her reservations about the system as it stands now. She pointed to fewer than a hundred examples of voter fraud identified in the 2016 election as cause for alarm (rather than a sign of the minute problems and aggressive safeguarding of mail-in voting).
And most notably, during the primary, she told the Bend Bulletin: "The entire nation should not be pushed to adopt Oregon's plagued vote-by-mail system, when clearly this should be a decision made by individual states."
The secretary of state's most important job is overseeing the state's elections. Now is not the time to turn that important work over to anybody who is less than a full-throated defender of Oregon's vote-by-mail system.
State Sen. Shemia Fagan (D-East Portland) is just as partisan as Thatcher but has proved smart and principled in the causes she has championed.
And most importantly for the office, Fagan, 39, has proven a vocal advocate for expanding access to voting, including prepaid postage for voter registration of anyone who uses the DMV. Giving every eligible voter easier access to the ballot box should not be a partisan issue, and Fagan has picked expanding voting rights over increasing party advantage.
Fagan has been an effective force in the state Legislature, bringing long-overdue sidewalk enhancements to East Portland while in the House and unseating a conservative Democrat in the primary to win her Senate seat in a quest to pass statewide tenant protections in the midst of a housing crisis. (She successfully passed modest reforms, including a cap on rent increases.)
The test of her mettle will be whether Fagan, like Richardson and Clarno, can rise above partisan considerations and prove independent from the public employee unions who drafted her as a late replacement for former state Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland) in this race and furnished the majority of her funding. Fagan also received a sizable donation ($50,000) from Gov. Kate Brown. That may be cause for concern, in that the job of secretary of state includes auditing state agencies run by the governor.
We expect Fagan's political ambitions won't end with this office, but her integrity will be measured by how well she performs that aspect of the job.
In this contest, we endorse her wholeheartedly—because she does the same for vote by mail.
Fagan's most awkward moment on Zoom: Her puppy chewed on a pair of her underpants in the laundry basket behind her.
Tobias Read (D)
The state treasurer is Oregon's lowest-key statewide office, but the job is more than bean counting. Instead, the office is tasked with ensuring Oregon stays solvent. The treasurer oversees the state's cash management, including debt issuance and borrowing, and serves as one of five members of the Oregon Investment Council and one of three members of the State Land Board.
Incumbent Tobias Read, 45, served five terms in the Oregon House, representing Beaverton before winning this office in 2016. Read is not particularly partisan, appropriate for the most technocratic of statewide elected positions. (Ted Wheeler seemed far more comfortable in this role than he has as Portland mayor.) On Read's watch, the Oregon Investment Council has continued to excel at investing the state's more than $100 billion in pension and other funds. Read helped solve a messy disposition of the Elliott State Forest. After he joined, the Land Board voided an ill-considered sale and began transferring the property to Oregon State University's School of Forestry instead. Read has also implemented two ideas begun by his predecessor, Wheeler: bringing some investment functions in-house that the state previously paid big money to let Wall Street handle (saving more than $100 million a year) and implementing the nation's first state-sponsored retirement savings programs for workers who previously had no access to such programs (those workers have saved $70 million so far).
Republican Jeff Gudman, 66, an investor who served two terms on the Lake Oswego City Council, is challenging Read, as he did in 2016, losing then by just a couple of percentage points.
Gudman has highlighted earlier reporting by Oregon Public Broadcasting that showed Read and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum have taken big contributions from class action law firms seeking to represent the state in securities litigation. Out-of-state law firms who want to represent Oregon contribute to elected officials here. It's unseemly but not disqualifying—and Gudman presents no evidence Read is corrupt. For his part, Read says he is walled off from the process of choosing who represents the state.
Gudman also knocks Read for not doing more to cut the state's unfunded pension liability, now about $25 billion. That's a stretch. Read is doing what the treasurer is supposed to do: earn strong returns on pension investments. If there are benefit cuts or other decisions to be made about the liability, that's the role of the governor and the Legislature.
Gudman is a solid candidate, but there's no reason to believe he'd be better than Read, particularly given the treasurer's strong relationships in Salem. As Wheeler learned when lawmakers consistently frustrated his agenda, those relationships are crucial. Also running: Michael Marsh, a retired maintenance worker who has the Constitution Party nomination but didn't attend our interview, and Chris Henry, 56, an Oregon City truck driver who earned the nomination of the Independent, Green and Progressive parties. He'd like to establish a state bank to keep Oregonians money in Oregon hands, but Henry's out of his league in this race.
Read's most awkward moments on Zoom: His children, 11 and 7, are such regular Zoom bombers he's ceased noticing their intrusions into his calls.