Murmurs: Endorsements Hint at Shape of Governor’s Race

In other news: Former senator joins lobbying firm.

ENDORSEMENTS HINT AT SHAPE OF GOVERNOR’S RACE: Although election season is now in the political doldrums where campaigns go mostly dark until Labor Day, each of the three major candidates for Oregon governor made news this week. Former state Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose), who is now unaffiliated with any party, reported a $100,000 contribution from Sid DeBoer, founder and chairman of Lithia Motors. GOP nominee Christine Drazan reported a $250,000 contribution from the Republican Governors Association, a further sign that national money thinks a Republican could win the governor’s race for the first time in 40 years. The RGA has now given Drazan a total of $569,000. Former House Speaker Tina Kotek, the Democratic nominee, racked up endorsements from Everytown for Gun Safety, a Michael Bloomberg-funded group, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. AFSCME did not endorse in the Democratic primary, and many of its members are known to be open to Johnson—but Johnson’s campaign says she didn’t pursue the endorsement, a decision that shows she plans to run against public employee unions rather than try to pick off members who might be wary of Kotek. “AFSCME is part of the public sector ruling coalition that is responsible for Kate Brown and Tina Kotek,” says Johnson’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Sitton. “They and the teachers’ union bosses work for [Service Employees International Union], not their members.” Oregon AFSCME President Fred Yungbluth says Johnson has “continuously attacked” the wages and benefits of public employees. “It’s disappointing to see this lack of respect for the people she’s running to represent,” he says.

“It’s unfortunate Senator Johnson views the hard-working Oregon AFSCME members that spend their nights and weekends serving on our board with such disdain. Senator Johnson knows it is our members from across the state, who interview candidates and make endorsement decisions. Throughout her career, she has continuously attacked the wages and benefits of public servants like firefighters, correctional officers, nurses, and teachers. It’s disappointing to see this lack of respect for the people she’s running to represent.”

AUDIT OUTLINES EMPLOYMENT DEPARTMENT FAILURES: On July 27, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan released a blistering audit of the Oregon Employment Department. Auditors examined the agency’s much-criticized performance during the initial stage of the pandemic, when unemployment soared from record lows of 3.4% to 13.3% in less than two months. Previous audits in 2012 and 2015 had identified serious problems at the agency, notably a failure to use $85 million in federal money appropriated in 2009 to modernize OED’s ancient computer system. As claims soared 600% from 2019 to 2020, countless Oregonians received benefits late. When the agency did pay claims during the pandemic, auditors found, it paid them more slowly to people of color and those with lower incomes. (One bright spot: The agency deserves a gold star, the audit found, for paying out a vastly lower percentage of bogus claims than neighboring states and the national average.) The agency largely agreed with auditors’ findings. “The goal of a safety net is for it to be there when you need it,” Fagan said. “This audit helps explain why Oregon’s unemployment insurance program failed when it was needed most.”

FORMER SENATOR JOINS LOBBYING FIRM: Onetime state Sen. Mark Hass (D-Beaverton) has joined the lobbying firm of Oxley & Associates. Oxley has a powerhouse list of clients that includes Altria, Amazon Web Services, Fred Meyer and Safeway-Albertson’s. Hass chaired the Senate Finance and Education committees and was known for shepherding complex, landmark bills through the Legislature. He was an architect of the Student Success Act, which raised the corporate activities tax to boost funding for public schools, and Oregon Promise, an aid program to grant free community college tuition. Hass, who narrowly lost a primary bid for secretary of state in 2020, started advising Oxley without fanfare in February. He says he “will not be lobbying.” Oxley merely asked him “for help with strategic advice,” Hass says.

FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION: WW received six awards last week from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, which recognizes the best journalism produced across the nation by alt-weeklies. Among the honors were three first prizes. Rachel Monahan won the Special Vaccine Coverage Award for her reporting on vaccine-skeptical Oregonians (“Long Shot,” Jan. 6, 2021). The story was supported by the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism, a program of the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s 2020 National Fellowship. Anthony Effinger took first prize for health care reporting with his profile of Bret Weinstein, the podcaster peddling invermectin (“Drug and Pony Show,” Sept. 15, 2021). And Tess Riski was awarded the top prize in long-form news story writing for revealing the rise in armed robberies at cannabis shops (“Killer Weed,” March 3, 2021). Next week, Riski begins work on the city desk of the Miami Herald.

SKIDMORE PRIZE SEEKS NOMINATIONS: Nominations are open for the Skidmore Prize, which honors individuals making a significant difference in the community through their work at a local nonprofit. Nominees must be 35 or younger during 2022. Their nonprofit can be any size and type so long as it serves the local community. The nomination period is open now through midnight Aug. 12. Read the details and apply at giveguide.org/skidmore-winners. You can also view previous winners and learn about their work at the same website.