PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon ballots have been mailed out for the May 19 primary. One of the most competitive races is the Democratic primary for secretary of state. It's a wide open race with no incumbent.
Three candidates are vying for the chance to take on the winner of the Republican primary in this November's general election. They are state Sen. Mark Hass, of Beaverton, state Sen. Shemia Fagan, of Happy Valley, and former Congressional candidate Jamie McLeod Skinner, of Terrebonne.
The two Republican candidates are state Sen. Kim Thatcher and environmental inventor Dave Stauffer.
KGW's current affairs show, Straight Talk, will invite the eventual Republican nominee on the show in the fall, along with the Democratic nominee.
In this week's "Straight Talk" episode, host, Laural Porter, interviewed Oregon state Sens. Hass and Fagan. McLeod Skinner will join Porter on the show next week.
The secretary of state is the chief elections officer, oversees auditing and sits on the state land board.
And since Oregon is one of five states without a lieutenant governor, the secretary of state is next in line to assume the governorship, should the governor leave office or be incapacitated. (Story continues below)
Hass points to his nearly 20 years in the Oregon Legislature in both the House and Senate as the most significant factor separating him from his opponents.
He said he has a proven track record of accomplishments, including leading the way as the sponsor of the Student Success Act, the largest piece of education legislation in state history, and the Oregon Promise, which provided free tuition to community college for Oregon high school graduates.
"Getting these through the Capitol doesn't happen by accident. You have to talk to all people. You have to respect other people's opinions. You have to build coalitions. That's the same M.O. I will take to the secretary of state's office," he said.
Fagan jumped into the race late, after the other two candidates, when former Oregon House majority leader Jennifer Williamson dropped out following news disclosures about her campaign spending.
Fagan emphasizes her own experience in the Legislature serving two terms in the House and then unseating a Democratic incumbent in 2018 to win a seat in the Oregon Senate.
She said she has a history of being independent on issues.
"I have a track record of being straight with Oregonians, even when things aren't working as they should," she said.
PANDEMIC: CANDIDATES CALL FOR AUDIT
Both Hass and Fagan praised Gov. Kate Brown's leadership during the pandemic, saying this is a crisis like we've never seen before.
However, both said as secretary of state, they'd call for an emergency preparedness audit to make sure Oregon is positioned to handle a future crisis.
"I think we have a lot to learn," said Fagan. "I would call for an emergency audit and look at everything across the board."
"I'd look at where we dropped the ball and where we didn't. How we can be prepared for the next emergency, whether it's another pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist act," Hass said.
One of the most important functions of secretary of state is to ensure fair, safe, and open elections. All three candidates pledge to make voting easier in Oregon, including same-day voter registration.
They disagree on whether the Legislature or an independent commission should be responsible for redrawing congressional and legislative boundaries to reflect the change in population following the 2020 Census.
A proposed measure would create an independent citizens' redistricting commission for reapportioning Oregon's state legislative districts. There is also a national movement among Democrats to move in that direction.
Fagan doesn't think it's necessary.
"If it's not broke, don't fix it," she said. "Oregonians have a robust protection in place for redistricting. You can't lay out legislative districts to benefit incumbents or anyone. It's against Oregon law."
"The reality is what's happening now is working for Oregonians," she said.
Hass said he's the only candidate who's been involved in two redistricting sessions. He acknowledged there are pressures.
"I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly," Hass said.
He said during redistricting, Republicans and Democrats tend to trade safe seats.
"So, these seats get a little more blue or a little more red, and in a general election, they are just not competitive," he said.
Hass said he thinks moving the responsibility to an independent commission might remove some of that.
Two of the state's largest public employee unions endorsed Fagan over her two challengers.
She said she's proud to have the backing of the Oregon Education Association and the Service Employees International Union. Together, the unions have contributed more than $100,000 to her campaign.
"I'm thrilled to have the support of the people who we call our heroes.
The essential workers on the front lines. They're the ones cleaning hotel rooms, hospital rooms. They're firefighters and educators. I'm proud to be endorsed by Oregon's working people," she said.
In a letter to supporters, Hass wrote, "Oregon sure can't afford to have special interests buy this election to advance their narrow interests, not ours," he said.
When asked who the "special interests" are, Hass didn't specify unions, but said any group that contributes $30,000 to $50,000 to a campaign.
In the 2019 legislative session, Hass voted for Senate Bill 1049, which made controversial changes to the state's pension system for public employees.
Hass said it was a tough vote, but a necessary one to pass the Student Success Act.
"I was in charge of getting the votes for that and I knew if we didn't have a PERS bill, we wouldn't have passed the Student Success Act," he said.
Hass said he explained his vote to union members during endorsement interviews.
"I looked them in the eye and said here's what I did and here's why I did it. I think they respected that. They didn't like it. But they respected it. If it costs me the election, it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets," he said.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM
All three candidates, Fagan, Hass, and McLeod Skinner, support campaign finance reform and encourage voters to support November's ballot measure that would amend the Oregon constitution to allow limits on campaign donations.
On April 23, the Oregon Supreme court reversed a ruling banning strict campaign finance limits, ruling in favor of a voter-approved Multnomah County law putting a $500 limit on campaign donations. However, despite the new ruling, current secretary of state Bev Clarno said on Friday there remains no limit on campaign contributions.
Fagan said she's thrilled by the court's ruling, but still wants Oregonians to enshrine the decision in the state constitution.
"We don't want in the future, another Oregon Supreme Court to overrule what happened this week, so I want Oregonians to support putting the amendment in the constitution," she said.
Hass called Oregon's campaign spending right now,"the wild west," and said it would remain that way until there's campaign finance reform. He is the chief sponsor of the campaign finance measure, Senate Joint Resolution 18.
"I hope everyone will vote for the measure so we can set limits once and for all," he said.
PITCH TO VOTERS
Asking for voters' support, Hass said, "My dad told me what you do is more important than what you say. Actions speak louder than words.
What I have done over the past 20 years. I have the track record of performing well in the past and the integrity to do it right," he said.
Fagan said there are a lot of good people in this race, but believes she stands out.
"The organizations you trust, Planned Parenthood, the Oregon Education Association, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters have endorsed me in the race," she said.
Straight Talk airs Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 6:30 p.m. and Monday at 4:30 a.m.
McLeod Skinner will be Porter's Guest on "Straight Talk" for the episode than runs May 8 through May 11.
The show is also available as a podcast.
KGW has a voters guide with more information about local and state races.