Staffers Allege Jamie McLeod-Skinner’s Driver Feared Physical Violence From Her

The new allegations, however, mark the first public claim that the congressional candidate laid a hand on an employee.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner (Mick Hangland-Skill)

Three former campaign workers for U.S. congressional candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner have come forward to allege that, during her last bid for office, the candidate twice made physical contact with her campaign driver.

The three allege the situation got so bad that the driver expressed fear of McLeod-Skinner, leading senior campaign staff and advisers to remove the driver from a home where he and McLeod-Skinner were staying Nov. 3, 2022.

In text messages reviewed by WW, the driver, who has asked for anonymity and declined to speak on the record but confirmed the physical contact, wrote to a senior campaign staffer on the afternoon of Nov. 2, 2022: “I’m scared she’s gonna hit me.”

“She’s punched me a few times like while I was driving and it wasn’t in malice just to like alert me to a car or something but now it’s different,” the driver added.

Chris Pair, then a senior adviser to McLeod-Skinner, now tells WW: “It doesn’t matter what precipitated a physical threat. The mere fact that someone would ever be made to feel that way by a candidate disqualifies them to represent anyone as an elected official.”

Pair is no longer working for McLeod-Skinner and has in fact advised state Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Happy Valley), one of her primary opponents, though he is not on staff.

Two other former senior staffers for McLeod-Skinner’s 2022 campaign who asked to remain anonymous confirmed Pair’s account of events and shared contemporaneous texts and phone call notes that document the driver expressing physical fear of McLeod-Skinner.

The driver confirmed the physical contact to WW, as well as the veracity of the text messages, but declined to comment further.

McLeod-Skinner, a lawyer and engineer, is a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 5th Congressional District now held by U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.). McLeod-Skinner defeated longtime incumbent Congressman Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) in the 2022 primary but lost to Chavez-DeRemer in the general election. This is her third bid for a congressional seat.

In a statement provided to WW by her campaign, McLeod-Skinner denied the allegations, saying they were politically motivated.

“To suggest that I would ever physically hit or harm a staffer is absolutely outrageous and categorically false, and unfortunately appears to be motivated and orchestrated by my opponent Janelle Bynum, her staff and her allies,” McLeod-Skinner said. “Janelle Bynum’s campaign has found no other way to counter my rock-solid lead and support in this Democratic primary, and they have resorted to these lies and dramatic exaggerations to try and take me down.”

In response to WW’s questions, the campaign also released a statement from Cass McLeod-Skinner, the candidate’s wife. She said the driver was removed from the house on the evening of Nov. 3 because Jamie McLeod-Skinner was afraid of the driver—not the other way around.

The driver “repeatedly lied to Jamie and other staff, and I know through real-time accounts that he put Jamie in dangerous situations while driving,” Cass McLeod-Skinner said in the statement. “By the end of the campaign, it was clear that [he] was not a reliable, professional or safe person to have around Jamie, and I was worried about my wife’s safety, so on Nov. 3 [the campaign’s political director] removed [him] from his assignment.” (Documents reviewed by WW suggest other staffers made that decision.)

In October of last year, news website Oregon Capital Chronicle reported on allegations by five of McLeod-Skinner’s 2022 campaign staffers and advisers that she had been verbally abusive, demanding and retaliatory toward staff.

The new allegations, however, mark the first public claim that McLeod-Skinner laid a hand on an employee.

A candidate’s driver, who often doubles as a personal assistant, is a shadow to the candidate. They share housing while on the road. They share meals. They spend hours, side by side, on long car rides. It’s an unconventional relationship, and the driver has a level of access to the candidate that few others on the campaign have.

In early October 2022, polling showed McLeod-Skinner trailing Chavez-DeRemer. By that point in the campaign, Pair and the two senior staffers tell WW, McLeod-Skinner, now 56, was anxious, angry and not even on speaking terms with her campaign manager, Joel Kasnetz. Her relationship with her driver, a man in his 20s, was also fraught, according to staffers WW interviewed.

On Nov. 2, when the vote-by-mail election was all but over, a senior staffer received a call from the driver, the staffer now tells WW. Notes taken by the staffer during that call, and provided to WW, read: “[Driver] called me to say…'She told me she despises me,’ said ‘I’m worried Jamie is going to hit me’ and that on several occasions in the past (he did not previously report to me) she had struck him while driving.”

Pair says he received a call the morning of Nov. 3 from the senior staffer who had exchanged texts with the driver the day before, in which he had written: “I’m scared she’s gonna hit me.”

Pair says he acted to remove the driver from McLeod-Skinner’s presence.

“Based on that information, I sought legal advice on an informal basis as to whether the campaign should take any action,” Pair says. “I decided the best course of action would be to separate the driver from McLeod-Skinner.”

That afternoon, another senior staffer picked up the driver at a campaign donor’s home in Laurelhurst where he and McLeod-Skinner were staying that night.

The senior staffer, who corroborated Pair’s statements in an interview with WW, picked up the driver at the home at 5:30 pm on Nov. 3. The two grabbed a beer at the Lucky Horseshoe Lounge in Southeast Portland and ate tacos at Nuestra Cocina, a nearby Mexican restaurant. Their account is corroborated by time and location stamps provided by that staffer. The driver then spent the night at the home of an associate and did not drive McLeod-Skinner again, according to staff.

It’s unclear what McLeod-Skinner was told that night about the driver’s sudden departure, but McLeod-Skinner contends Nichole van Eikeren, the political director for the campaign, called her and said she’d ordered the driver’s removal because of McLeod-Skinner’s concerns about him. (Van Eikeren did not respond to WW’s requests for comment on this story.)

But a text message thread among senior staff and advisers before the driver’s removal Nov. 3 shows them strategizing about what to tell McLeod-Skinner. One senior staffer wrote to advisers: “Nichole did some outreach to Cass and Cass volunteered that Jamie is uncomfortable around [the driver]. I think we might have an opportunity to get them separated right now without Jamie reacting poorly.”

McLeod-Skinner now alleges the driver’s behavior was increasingly erratic as election night approached, as was his driving, and she alleges he lied repeatedly about completing assigned tasks. She also says he once hugged her so hard it injured her back. (The campaign provided chiropractic records to substantiate the injury. The records do not say, however, what caused it.)

McLeod-Skinner’s campaign also provided WW an email sent by van Eikeren to other campaign advisers shortly after the driver was taken from the house on the evening of Nov. 3.

“During the course of this week,” van Eikeren wrote that same evening after the driver had been taken away, “it’s been clear that [he] has a pattern of chronic lying. There have been several instances of lying to Jamie, staff or voters/volunteers.”

Van Eikeren wrote that she had been “discussing this situation directly” with the driver on Nov. 1. “I will be saving documentation of these instances, if needed.” McLeod-Skinner’s campaign did not provide any documents created prior to Nov. 3 that would suggest McLeod-Skinner was fearful of the driver.

The driver declined to respond to the allegations made by McLeod-Skinner and her campaign. Van Eikeren did not respond to a phone call or text from WW.

On Nov. 14, 2022, after a drawn-out counting of votes in Clackamas County, McLeod-Skinner conceded defeat in a campaign that had grown fractious behind the scenes. Last year, she began preparing a new run for Congress—and, during a debate at a Democratic Party of Oregon event last October, said she was coming back stronger.

“We learned a lot,” McLeod-Skinner said, adding that “I’ve got a much more experienced and stronger team.”

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