Murmurs: Sex Work Decriminalization Campaign Withdraws Petition

In other news: Kristof decision looms.

SEX WORK DECRIMINALIZATION CAMPAIGN WITHDRAWS PETITION: An advocacy group seeking to decriminalize sex work through a ballot initiative withdrew its petition Jan. 21. “We are fully committed to decriminalizing and destigmatizing sex work in Oregon,” Anne Marie Bäckstöm, political director of the Sex Worker Rights campaign, tells WW. “We withdrew Initiative Petition 42 to take a chance and tweak and improve the policy. We have never been more committed to this work and to the community, and that is why we withdrew.” The group had filed its prospective petition with the state on Nov. 16 and, in mid-December, it qualified to draft a ballot initiative title. It is unclear whether the campaign plans to refile again for the upcoming November election. Bäckstöm says Aaron Boonshoft, the chief petitioner whom the campaign describes as “an Oregon philanthropist, an advocate of human rights, and a client of legal, consensual sex work,” made the decision to withdraw. The withdrawal marks the second time in the past two years that advocacy groups have tried and failed to decriminalize sex work in Oregon. Last February, state Rep. Rob Nosse (D-Portland) filed House Bill 3088 at the request of an East Coast advocacy group called the Sex Workers Project. The bill died in committee in June during the 2021 session.

KRISTOF DECISION LOOMS: Democratic candidate for governor Nick Kristof’s appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court is nearing resolution. Kristof filed his opening brief Jan 14. On Jan. 20, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan filed her reply brief with the high court, defending her decision to exclude Kristof from the ballot for not meeting the state constitution’s three-year residency requirement for gubernatorial candidates. On Jan. 24, six women of color, led by state Reps. Andrea Valderrama (D-Portland) and Wlnsvey Campos (D-Aloha) filed an amicus brief with the court, urging the justices to rule against Kristof. “Mr. Kristof in his argument to the court calls for the court to elevate above all other issues the fact that he owns a second home and several properties in Oregon, and has raised more than $2.5 million,” Valderrama said in a statement. “That is outrageous and would set a dangerous precedent.” On Jan. 25, former Secretaries of State Bill Bradbury and Jeanne Atkins also filed an amicus brief, arguing Fagan got it wrong and urging the court to put Kristof on the ballot. “Voters are the ultimate decision makers in elections,” they wrote. Kristof now has one final chance to buttress his argument for being included on the ballot. That filing is due Jan. 26. Afterward, the court will rule.

JOHNSON CANDIDACY DIVIDES REPUBLICANS: Former state Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) is attempting to attract partisan loyalists to her independent run for governor, but among her Republican endorsers she’s navigating divided loyalties. The campaign has removed two Republicans from its official list of endorsers: Rep. Jeff Helfrich (R-Cascade Locks), who last year donated $250 to Johnson and $175 to Republican gubernatorial candidate Stan Pulliam and did not respond to requests for comment, and former Rep. Cheri Helt (R-Bend), who told WW she’s opted to wait for the general election. “I have had the honor and privilege of working with Sen. Johnson and Rep. Christine Drazan in the Legislature—two trailblazing women who fly with their own wings and have a history of defeating Tina Kotek’s bad policies by pushing back on the Portland elite,” Helt says. “I have an incredible amount of respect for each of these women, and I’m reserving my endorsement until after the primary.” A third Republican endorser, former Secretary of State and onetime House Speaker Bev Clarno, is still among Johnson’s listed endorsements. But she tells WW she also endorsed Medford businesswoman Jessica Gomez in the Republican primary in addition to Johnson as an independent for the general election. “We’ll happily list people as donors, endorsers or let them just be silent well-wishers if they’d like,” says Johnson campaign manager Emmet Duffy. “In the end, it’s a secret ballot that matters.”

CENTER FOR COVID CONTROL’S HQ RAIDED BY FBI: On Saturday, the FBI raided the Illinois headquarters of the embattled COVID-19 testing company that’s under investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice. The company operated three sites in the Portland area before closing them Jan. 13 (“Out of Control,” WW, Jan. 19). They have yet to reopen. The company has eluded government scrutiny since at least the fall. The Oregon Health Authority told WW two weeks ago it had received no test results from the company or its partner lab—which has received $124 million from the federal government for providing tests to the uninsured. Portlanders who shared their visits with WW had a myriad of complaints, including testing negative and then testing positive elsewhere, improper handling of test samples, and unprofessional conduct by site employees. CCC says it closed its sites due to staffing shortages, and did not respond to a request for comment.