WW’s May 2024 Endorsements: Statewide

The secretary of state is a heartbeat or bad decision away from becoming the state’s top executive.

Tobias Read/ Dan Rayfield/ Elizabeth Steiner (Whitney McPhie)

Secretary of State

Tobias Read - Democrat

Tobias Read (Whitney McPhie)

Secretary of state is an important job. It oversees Oregon elections, audits state agencies, registers all companies that do business in the state and, along with the governor and state treasurer, sits on the State Land Board. Done right, it’s an administrative position that requires steadiness, organizational experience, and as little partisanship as possible.

Tobias Read, who has served two terms as state treasurer, is term-limited from running again and is now seeking the position. Read is the easy choice here over state Sen. James Manning (D-Eugene).

Read, 48, a former Nike executive and five-term lawmaker from Beaverton who unsuccessfully challenged Gov. Tina Kotek in the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial primary, is an ambitious politician who has shown himself to have a steady hand. As state treasurer, he’s overseen strong returns for the state’s more than $100 billion in pension funds, navigated the political pressures to divest that portfolio from fossil fuels, and spoken with a calm voice on contentious land board issues such as management of the Elliott State Forest. As the state’s chief elections officer, Read would give all Oregonians the confidence they should have in their electoral system.

Manning, 70, served 24 years in the U.S. Army before retiring to Eugene. After being appointed to the state Senate in 2016, Manning established a reputation for integrity and fairness, although it’s also fair to note as he seeks the second-highest office in the state that he’s never chaired a major committee or held either of the top positions in his caucus.

Jim Crary, a retired lawyer from Ashland; Dave Stauffer, a Portland inventor; and Paul Damian Wells, a retired engineer from Corvallis, are also in the race, but none of them has the political experience or support that Manning and Read enjoy.

Given that the secretary of state is next in line to the governor, it’s important to remember two dates:

In February 2015, the longest-serving governor in Oregon history, John Kitzhaber, abruptly resigned amid an influence-peddling scandal. That resignation, per the terms of the Oregon Constitution, immediately elevated then-Secretary of State Kate Brown to the governor’s office. (Oregon is one of just five states that does not have a lieutenant governor.) Overnight, Brown took on a job she’d never sought and for which she’d had no time to prepare.

In May 2023, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan abruptly resigned after WW reported she’d signed a $10,000-a-month consulting contract with a troubled cannabis company.

Kitzhaber’s resignation is a reminder that the secretary of state is a heartbeat or bad decision away from becoming the state’s top executive. Fagan’s downfall showcases how crucial good character is to an office that safeguards the integrity of Oregon’s elections.

We’re confident that Read is the right choice.

Who’d play Read in a movie? Tom Hanks.

Secretary of State

Dennis Linthicum - Republican

Dennis Linthicum (Dennis Linthicum)

Let’s be honest: There are no good choices here.

Tim McCloud, 38, a business analyst from Salem, is an amiable guy who ran for governor in 2022 but isn’t taking this race seriously enough to submit a Voters’ Pamphlet statement, put up a website, or raise a single dollar. Brent Barker, a commercial real estate broker and athletic trainer from Aloha, ran for state labor commissioner in 2022. His big idea for this office: purge the voter rolls, ask everybody to reregister and then create a new holiday so everybody can go to the rolls and vote in person. Might as well hail a horse and buggy to get there.

The most experienced candidate in the race, state Sen. Dennis Linthicum (R-Klamath Falls), 68, is an election denier and conspiracy theorist who has signed on to numerous frivolous lawsuits challenging Oregon’s vote-by-mail system. He is seeking statewide office only after being disqualified from running again for his Senate seat because he walked out of the Capitol in 2023.

We agree with Linthicum on nothing. So why endorse him? Three reasons: First, we don’t allow ourselves the luxury of taking a powder on a decision—no matter how meager the options—and his opponents are nonstarters. Second, Linthicum’s serious enough about public service to have served on the Klamath County Board of Commissioners and spent the past decade in the Legislature. Last and most importantly, Oregon desperately needs a serious Republican Party to keep the far more numerous Democrats in check. It may be a useful wake-up call for many Republicans to see voters in the general election recoil when they realize just how far the party’s leaders—such as Linthicum—have diverged from reality.

Who’d play Linthicum on film? Dennis Quaid.

State Treasurer

Elizabeth Steiner - Democrat

Elizabeth Steiner (Whitney McPhie)

When discussing who should be Oregon’s next treasurer, you might be tempted to make an old joke about how doctors are bad at investing. One of the two candidates is, after all, an M.D.

But listen to state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner (D-Northwest Portland) talk about Oregon’s finances for even a few minutes and you quickly learn that such jokes don’t apply.

Steiner, 61, knows about money in part because she has served as co-chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee since 2018. That’s the committee that guards the state’s purse strings.

In that position, she has developed a reputation for rigorous due diligence. People testifying before her often face withering inquiry. In WW’s most recent “The Good, the Bad & the Awful” poll of Capitol insiders, Steiner ranked in the top tier—and got high marks for her intelligence.

The treasurer’s job is open because Tobias Read has served his two-term limit. Steiner is facing off against private investor Jeff Gudman for the Democratic Party nod.

This is Gudman’s third run for treasurer, but his first as a Democrat. Since his last run, in 2020, as a Republican, he switched parties, in part because of Donald Trump. “The Republican Party has left me,” Gudman says.

A former Lake Oswego city councilor and current treasurer at the Legacy Emanuel Foundation, Gudman, 69, has some bold ideas. He advocates using the kicker for something other than refunds, which is tantamount to a tax increase. At a record $5.6 billion this year, there’s a lot of kicker cash that could be used to pay down debt or invest in the state’s sagging infrastructure. (Steiner lauds the idea, but it’s not up to the treasurer. It would require a vote of two-thirds of the state Legislature, a high hurdle, according to Steiner, who has been in Capitol trenches since 2011.)

It’s telling that Gudman’s signature proposal is one that isn’t under the office’s purview and wouldn’t fly politically. He’s a candidate without a party, and his run in the Democratic primary feels like a category mistake. Steiner is the epitome of a party apparatchik, but she has served with integrity and can navigate Salem. Read, an official significantly to her right, asked her to run. We think he made the right choice.

Who’d play Steiner on film? Anne Hathaway.

Attorney General

Dan Rayfield - Democrat

It’s been 16 years since WW has endorsed in the attorney general’s race. That’s because the office has been occupied by Ellen Rosenblum, who is married to the co-owner of WW’s parent company, and we’ve abstained from endorsing in contests in which she’s running.

Rosenblum is hanging up her spurs, and two Democrats seek to succeed her: Dan Rayfield and Shaina Pomerantz.

Rayfield, 45, the baby-faced golden boy of the state Democratic Party, has come a long way from his years working as a Jungle Cruise skipper at Walt Disney World. The onetime college dropout (technically a “medical withdrawal,” he notes) later completed his degree and has quickly ascended the Oregon political ladder to the plum position of House speaker.

Rayfield is certainly qualified for the AG’s office. A longtime lawyer, he’s worked on the sorts of consumer protection and civil rights cases that would be the purview of the agency he wants to lead. He says the Department of Justice can help the governor’s efforts to produce affordable housing by streamlining contract review procedures to get money out the door faster. (WW has reported that DOJ legal opinions have held up financing for low-income housing developments.)

His opponent, Shaina Pomerantz, 48, runs a racial justice nonprofit. She previously directed Concordia University’s writing center before landing a job investigating civil rights complaints for the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries, a tenure that ended shortly thereafter with her filing a successful racial discrimination lawsuit against her employer.

Pomerantz offers a valuable corrective to Salem’s good-old-boy network. But she doesn’t have the requisite experience for the position—including being a member of the Oregon State Bar. We give our nod to Rayfield.

Who’d play Rayfield in a movie? Steve Carrell.

Attorney General

Will Lathrop - Republican

Will Lathrop

It’s also been a decade since Democrats faced a serious Republican challenger for state attorney general. (In both of the past two cycles, incumbent Rosenblum received more than 55% of the vote.) Will Lathrop could prove modestly more formidable.

Lathrop, 46, has an impressive résumé: The former Marion County prosecutor grew up in rural Joseph in Wallowa County, graduated from Willamette University College of Law and then, after his stint as a prosecutor in Yamhill and Marion counties, moved to Africa to lead a team at a faith-based nonprofit that helped prosecute land raiders.

He’s back in Oregon, pledging to bring new ideas to the state’s Department of Justice. Lathrop says he’ll reinvigorate the agency’s criminal justice division, which he says is demoralized and could be doing more to counter drug traffickers and organized retail theft. The division is certainly no heavyweight, using less than 5% of the agency’s budget. Still, Lathrop says, “It’s not a resource problem, it’s an execution problem.”

His opponent, Michael Cross, 56, won the 2020 primary and 42% of the vote in the general election. He’s a businessman, not a lawyer, whose political idol is U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and whose solution to the homelessness crisis is to ship the unhoused out of town. Lathrop is better qualified and overall a more convincing candidate.

Who’d play Lathrop in a movie? Denzel Washington.

See more of Willamette Week’s May 2024 Endorsements here!

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