There are at least 13 candidates jockeying to replace the late City Commissioner Nick Fish in May.
Yesterday, one of them, Tera Hurst, the executive director of Renew Oregon, a clean energy group, picked up a valuable endorsement from NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, the group formerly known as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws.
"Tera Hurst will be an incredible addition to City Hall. [At Renew] she has redefined what an environmental leader looks like, and inspired NARAL to support Clean Energy Jobs, with the understanding that reproductive justice includes environmental justice," says the endorsement, which goes out to 13,000 NARAL Oregon members and probably many more than that on social media.
Although endorsements don't always mean a lot, NARAL's pick is helpful in a crowded field in which candidates don't have much time to distinguish themselves from each other before the May 19 primary election. It also comes at a time when abortion rights are under threat around the country and in the federal courts.
NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon positions itself as a key player in that fight. "NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon is the leading grassroots pro-choice advocacy organization in Oregon," the organization says on its website. "We educate our members and identified supporters, provide strategic advice to candidates, mobilize get out the vote efforts, and ensure that pro-choice policies are a top priority in local and state government."
Typically, before groups active in Portland city elections—such as public employee unions or business groups—issue endorsements, they ask candidates to fill out questionnaires, come in for interviews, or both.
NARAL did not do that. Instead, the group just chose Hurst, who happens to be a NARAL board member.
Hurst says the choice makes sense. "It is common for an organization to quickly endorse its chosen candidate, who they know is an uncompromising champion of their mission," Hurst says in an email. "NARAL was not only confident in my candidacy for City Council but also invested in sending a strong message of early support in an open election."
One of the other candidates in the race, Margot Black, the founder of Portland Tenants United, expressed disappointment that NARAL endorsed without interviewing other candidates.
"I'm a little puzzled why an organization like NARAL would make such an impactful endorsement without any process at all," Black says. "There are a number of progressive women in this race and I think it make sense to conduct and endorsement process. I imagine people on NARAL'S mailing list would assume there was a process."
Former Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, perhaps the best-known candidate in the race, declined to comment directly on NARAL's decision, although Smith noted she'd worked closely with the group at the county and hopes to do so again if elected.
"I appreciate the work they do," Smith says. "My campaign is going to be about poverty—putting roofs over people's heads and put food on their tables." (Julia Degraw, who ran against Fish in 2018 and is running again, could not be reached for comment.)
Although NARAL recently released a slate of statewide endorsements which mentioned NARAL's political action committee was "meeting with amazing candidates every day," Christel Allen, NARAL Oregon's political director, acknolwedges in the case of the City Council race that didn't happen.
"In this case, we didn't [interview candidates]," Allen said in a statement. "We take our endorsements seriously, and this was a unanimous decision. We recognize Tera Hurst as a true reproductive freedom champion and a leader in our organization. We are proud that pro-choice voters trust us to support candidates like Tera who will go above and beyond to champion our mission. We know she will be an extraordinary partner in City Hall."