About 160 people, including elected officials and leaders in the medical community, have signed an unusual letter asking Pro-Choice Oregon to reconsider its decision to only endorse Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson in the race for county chair.
Their request: that Pro-Choice Oregon’s political action committee expand its endorsement to include both Vega Pederson and her opponent in the November general election, Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran.
“Pro-Choice Oregon PAC’s endorsement of just one of the two pro-choice candidates in the Multnomah County Chair race implies that the non-endorsed candidate does not fulfill the PAC’s goal. We respectfully submit that this undermines the PAC’s work,” the letter says.
“For this reason, we are asking you to clarify for voters that both candidates do indeed meet this standard, and that reproductive rights will be a priority under either candidate’s leadership.”
The list of signers includes at least 24 medical doctors, including state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-Portland) and Reps. Lisa Reynolds (D-Portland) and Maxine Dexter (D-Portland), all three of whom are physicians. It also includes Michele Stranger Hunter, the former longtime executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon (as the group used to be known); Metro Councilor Mary Nolan, a co-founder of NARAL Oregon (the group changed its name last year); and Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.
Candidates value Pro-Choice Oregon’s endorsement highly, perhaps even more so now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. Vega Pederson handily outpaced Meieran in the May primary, 42% to 18%, but a crowded field means the two will face off in the November general election.
Meieran’s supporters note in their letter that in addition to her work as an emergency room physician, Meieran has impeccable pro-choice credentials.
“She has served on the Board and then as the Medical Director of the Oregon Foundation for Reproductive Health (the public health arm of the precursor of Pro-Choice Oregon),” the letter says. “As medical director, Sharon educated the community locally and across the US on topics such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, how to reduce teen pregnancy, and the importance of preconception care.”
Erica Fuller, a co-chair of the political action committee of Pro-Choice Oregon, acknowledges Meieran’s credentials but says the board will not be changing its endorsement.
“We do not ‘greenlight’ all pro-choice candidates,” Fuller says. “Our intent is to identify the one candidate who is the best choice and most effective champion on our issues. We stand by our decision. JVP was identified, through our process, as a clear champion based on her record and her lived values.”
Fuller says the fact that Vega Pederson is Latina and Meieran is white also played a role in the endorsement.
“One of our stated goals is to center and increase diversity and representation of our democracy by electing public officials from communities most impacted by barriers to reproductive health care access,” Fuller says. “We intentionally prioritize candidates who self-identify as Black, Indigenous and other people of color.”
It’s also the case that Vega Pederson is a member of Pro-Choice Oregon’s board. As WW previously reported, two other board members, then-secretary of state candidate Jennifer Williamson and Portland City Council candidate Tera Hurst, got Pro-Choice Oregon’s endorsements in the 2020 election cycle without any process. (Meieran did get an interview with the PAC board.)
Fuller acknowledges the PAC board’s process hasn’t always been fair. “One of the reasons we [Fuller and her co-chair, Estela Munoz Villarreal] decided to come on as co-chairs was concerns over transparency in the past endorsement process,” Fuller says.
In the county chair’s race, Fuller says, the board made its decision based on the criteria laid out on its website. “We understand that Commissioner Vega Pederson has been an active member of our board, but that’s not our way of picking—our decision had nothing to do with her being on our board.”
In a letter responding to the petition requesting that Pro-Choice Oregon dual-endorse Vega Pederson and Meieran, Fuller and Villarreal explain that it would be a disservice to voters to endorse two candidates.
“Our job is to inform supporters not simply as to which candidates identify as pro-choice, but which one candidate is the best choice,” they wrote (emphasis theirs).
Yet in May, the Pro-Choice Oregon PAC issued a dual endorsement in the Senate District 13 primary, Fuller acknowledges.
“We do dual endorsements sometimes,” she says. “In Senate District 13, we found and identified two candidates that were the best choice. In that case, there were two amazing candidates.”
Meieran says she did not ask her supporters to write to Pro-Choice Oregon, but she’s gratified by their show of support. She wishes, she adds, that the organization had seen fit to put the needs of the pro-choice movement above individual considerations. “It’s disappointing,” Meieran says.