First Time Since 2008 Oregonians to Choose Among Non-Incumbents
Oregonians next year will select a new secretary of state, attorney general and state treasurer for the first time since 2008. Secretary of State Shemia Fagan resigned and her appointed successor won’t seek election. Treasurer Tobias Read is finishing his second term and will run for secretary of state. Ellen Rosenblum has decided to step down after serving three terms.
The open seats are expected to produce contested races in both Democratic and Republican primaries. Candidates began filing for these and other offices September 14. Candidates have until March to file. All three races are partisan.
These statewide offices have historically been steppingstones to the governor’s office. Former Governors Kate Brown, Barbara Roberts, Tom McCall and Mark Hatfield served as secretary of state, Ted Kulongoski as attorney general and Bob Straub as treasurer.
Read, a Democrat, ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2022 when Oregonians elected Tina Kotek to lead the state. Because he is term-limited from seeking a third term as state treasurer, it wasn’t a surprise he quickly threw his hat into the ring for secretary of state.
Opposing Read, Democratic Senator James Manning from Eugene has announced his intention to run for secretary of state but hasn’t officially filed his candidacy. Manning has never run for statewide office before, contrasted with Read who has campaigned statewide three times, including in the last two elections.
Portland Democrat Elizabeth Steiner, a physician who has served in the Oregon Senate since 2012, has entered the race for state treasurer. This will be her first statewide candidacy. Businessman Jeff Gudman, who ran unsuccessfully against Read in 2020 and just finished two terms on the Lake Oswego City Council, is a potential Republican challenger.
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum recently announced she wouldn’t seek re-election. Robert Neuman, who ran a distant fifth in the 2022 election for Oregon Labor Commissioner, had already filed as a Republican for attorney general.
Newberg attorney Will Lathrop, who has gained attention for fighting human trafficking in Africa, plans to enter the AG race as a Republican.
No Democrat has filed to succeed Rosenblum but sources indicate House Speaker Dan Rayfield, an attorney and former prosecutor from Corvallis, may be interested.
Other Potential Candidates
The early filings by Read and Steiner are attempts to discourage other Democratic opponents. Read already has a Democratic opponent and others might appear, including former Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury.
There are plenty of eager Republicans that may step into the secretary of state race such as former candidates Stan Pulliam, Marc Thielman and Bridget Barton.
It’s less likely to see a crowd in the state treasurer’s race. Democratic Rep. Janelle Bynum reportedly looked at the race before deciding to run for Oregon’s Fifth Congressional seat.
Running Against the Political Tide
Republicans running for statewide offices are at a significant electoral disadvantage. There are 999,486 registered Democrats in Oregon compared with 722,205 Republicans. There are almost 1.1 million non-affiliated voters, who can’t vote in partisan primaries.
The lopsided edge enjoyed by Democrats is the reason why Oregon hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1982 and any statewide office holder since 2016 when Dennis Richardson was elected secretary of state.
Republican Christine Drazan made the three-candidate race for governor in 2022 interesting. Drazan received 850,347 votes – 130,000 more votes than registered Republicans – but only 43.6 percent of total votes cast. Kotek won the governorship with 47 percent. Independent candidate Betsy Johnson captured 168,431 votes or 8.6 percent of votes cast.
Pressure for Open Primaries
Groups including All Oregon Votes are pushing a ballot measure to end closed primaries and allow all registered voters to decide which candidates move on to the general election ballot. Oregon is one of only nine states that retain closed primary elections.
On its website, All Oregon Votes says the current primary system denies 42 percent of the state’s registered voters the right to cast ballots in partisan races, including all but one statewide office, 90 House and Senate seats and federal offices. As early as 2028, half of Oregon’s registered voters won’t be able to vote in partisan races. Perhaps the most persuasive argument mounted by open primary advocates is that a large percentage of state legislative races are effectively decided in the primary.
The rise in non-affiliated registered voters is attributed to Oregon’s automatic voter registration when obtaining a driver’s license. Data also suggests younger voters don’t associate with either political party. The sharp divisions within the Republican Party have led to voter defections, some of whom re-register as Democrats and others as non-affiliated.
Key 2024 Issues
In announcing his candidacy, Lathrop debuted likely 2024 primary campaign issues – voter dissatisfaction with crime, drugs and homelessness. A pair of initiatives are likely to make it on the 2024 general election ballot to re-criminalize possession of small amounts of drugs. Lawmakers are expected to propose Measure 110 fixes in the 2024 legislative session.
Another issue that will color the election next year are whether a handful of Republican senators can overturn in court a ruling by Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade that disqualifies them from seeking re-election under provisions of voter-approved Measure 113, intended to discourage legislative walkouts.
Of course, the biggest noise-maker next year could be whether advocates succeed in keeping Donald Trump off the Oregon presidential ballot. Trump, who leads other GOP presidential candidates by a mile, could be denied a place on the ballot. That would require a definitive court ruling that Trump’s effort to overturn his 2020 election loss disqualifies him from holding office under provisions in the 14th Amendment.