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With Gun Ad, Falsehoods Enter Ugly Race For Oregon Labor Commissioner

<p>Val Hoyle, right, during her time as an Oregon state lawmaker.</p>

Casey Minter


Val Hoyle, right, during her time as an Oregon state lawmaker.

For the last three years, pro-gun groups have disapproved of former Democratic state Rep. Val Hoyle. But anyone watching the latest ad to drop in the heated race to become Oregon’s next labor commissioner might come away with a very different conclusion.

A new online advertisement supported by the campaign of Lou Ogden misstates Hoyle's current relationships with groups such as the National Rifle Association and Oregon Firearms Federation, attacking her on a false claim that she is cozy with the NRA.

What the minute-long video doesn’t say? Ogden’s got far better ratings from pro-gun types than Hoyle. He’s received a B-plus rating from OFF. Hoyle’s got an F-minus.

The ad is the latest sign that the competitive race to take over the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries is descending into ugly territory with less than a week left before ballots are due for the May 15 election.

In recent weeks, Ogden and Hoyle have traded barbs in television ads — with Ogden painting Hoyle as a corrupt liar, and Hoyle suggesting Ogden is in a league with “extreme Republicans,” such as gubernatorial candidate Sam Carpenter. In addition, Ogden has complained about a Facebook page created by the AFL-CIO, which supports Hoyle. The page suggested Ogden didn’t quickly evict a tenant suspected of possessing child pornography.

It’s all lent an extremely partisan air to the race for a nonpartisan seat. The state’s labor commissioner oversees wage-and-hour laws, investigates civil rights complaints and helps train apprentice laborers. Current Commissioner Brad Avakian isn’t running for re-election after a decade in office.

Hoyle is being bankrolled in the race primarily by the labor unions that reliably aid Democratic candidates. Ogden, a Republican and the mayor of Tualatin, has seen big checks from timber companies, time-honored supporters of Republican causes.

The new ad has run on the website of the Eugene Register-Guard and takes things a step further, tiptoeing into the territory of straight-up falsehood. That’s reflective of a new reality in Oregon politics, according to Jim Moore, director of Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University.

“In Oregon, this type of politics is now becoming the norm,” Moore said. In years past, he said, "we’ve had people take ideas and build on them, but we haven’t had someone come out with out-and-out falsehoods.”

Ogden’s campaign team includes state Rep. Julie Parrish, a political consultant who in 2016 helped Secretary of State Dennis Richardson become the first Republican in more than a decade to win statewide office. Ogden’s spokesperson is Jonathan Lockwood, a sometimes controversial figure known for peppering opponents with negative messaging.

Lockwood told OPB the new ad “makes reference to the facts about Ms. Hoyle’s ever-shifting position on the Second Amendment.”

But the minute-long video doesn’t mention anything about a shifting stance. Instead, it paints Hoyle as a friend to gun groups, using that to suggest she can’t be trusted. The spot also suggests Hoyle has the endorsement of the NRA, which isn’t true.

“The NRA may love Val Hoyle but common-sense Oregonians have had enough,” a narrator says in the minute-long ad.

In fact, the NRA doesn’t love Hoyle.

As a legislator, she did earn favorable marks and endorsements from pro-gun groups in 2010, 2012 and 2014. During that period, records show she accepted a total of $500 from a political action committee connected to the NRA and $1,000 from the Oregon Gun Owners PAC.

At the time, Hoyle represented a Eugene-area district that encompassed urban and rural voters. She also was a member of the Oregon Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, a group of lawmakers who advocate for hunting and sport shooting, among other things.

But Hoyle became anathema to the NRA and OFF in 2015, after helping pass a bill to tighten background checks on gun sales when she was the House majority leader. Following that vote, Hoyle faced a brief recall campaign backed by gun supporters, which was ultimately abandoned.

Amid that drama, Hoyle served as majority leader when the Oregon House killed  a bill that would have made it a crime to traffic in animal parts such as elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns. Hoyle told The Oregonian/OregonLive at the time that the bill didn’t have the votes to pass the House and that she was "not going to pick a fight with the NRA" over a bill with no chance at passage.

Ogden’s campaign makes much of that statement — and the fact the Humane Society attacked Hoyle for her stance on the elephant bill — but it doesn’t appear to have put Hoyle in great standing with the gun group. When she ran unsuccessfully for Oregon secretary of state in 2016, the NRA gave her a 21 percent favorable rating.

In the same 2016 election, Hoyle took flack for accepting a $250,000 check from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, donated specifically because of her stance on gun control.

"No one in the country has worked harder — or more successfully — to take on the NRA than she has," a spokesman for Bloomberg said at the time.

Lockwood said Hoyle voted for tighter gun controls because she “understood that Michael Bloomberg was handing out money like candy to lawmakers and governors who would vote on his anti-gun legislation.”

Moore believes the latest messaging goes beyond merely twisting Hoyle’s record. “Especially given the last 18 months to two years, it’s an out-and-out lie,” he said.

Another thing the new ad doesn’t mention: Ogden has more favorable ratings from pro-gun groups than Hoyle. The Oregon Firearms Federation did not answer a question about why the organization had rated Ogden a relatively positive B-plus on gun issues, but Lockwood says the candidate did not fill out a questionnaire or candidate survey. OFF's antipathy for Hoyle is well-documented.

“We’re disappointed that Lou Ogden has resorted to spreading outright lies about Val’s record," said Logan Gilles, a spokesperson for the Hoyle campaign. "But we’re confident that voters will see through these desperate tactics, do their own research, and see that Val is the most qualified candidate for the Labor Commissioner job.”

It’s not clear how far and wide the NRA spot is running. Lockwood declined even to share a copy of it with OPB, saying Ogden’s camp was “not in a position to share our campaign strategy to reach voters with members of the media.” The advertising department at the Register-Guard also declined to share a copy of the ad.

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Dirk VanderHart is JPR's Salem correspondent reporting from the Oregon State Capitol. His reporting is funded through a collaboration between public radio stations around the Northwest called the Northwest News Network.