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Former House Leader Jennifer Williamson Drops Out Of Oregon Secretary Of State Race

<p>House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, signals her vote on the House floor at the Capitol in Salem, Ore., Tuesday, April 2, 2019.</p>

Bradley W. Parks

House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, signals her vote on the House floor at the Capitol in Salem, Ore., Tuesday, April 2, 2019.

UPDATE (6:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11) — Jennifer Williamson, the former House majority leader and a leading contender to be Oregon’s next secretary of state, said Monday that she is dropping out of the race.

The Portland Democrat confirmed via text message that she was ending her candidacy. The move was first reported on Twitter by Salem journalist Dick Hughes.

In a statement to supporters, Williamson said the abrupt move was in response to a forthcoming news story that "is designed to question my use of campaign funds and unfairly attack my integrity." 

The coverage in question is apparently from Willamette Week, which revealed it is planning to publish a story “about Williamson's campaign expenditures during the years she served in the House.”

Williamson, in a statement Monday, called the story "baseless" and said she had "always followed Oregon campaign finance laws and fully reported all expenditures for travel and other expenses while fulfilling my responsibilities as House Democratic Majority Leader and fact-finding as a state legislator. In fact, I often used campaign dollars in place of taxpayer dollars."

Despite her insistence that she's done nothing wrong, Williamson said she was leaving the race so as not to "distract Oregonians from what matters most in this election ..."

The decision is a dramatic turn of events for Williamson, a successful politician seen as having a strong chance at winning the Democratic nomination for the state’s second-highest executive office. Just days before ending her campaign, Williamson was tweeting about an ongoing “democracy tour” she’d planned around the state. She stepped down from her role as a state representative in late 2019 to campaign full time.

Williamson’s absence takes a major player out of a crowded Democratic primary that also features state Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, former Congressional candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner, and Cameron Smith, former director of the state’s Department of Consumer and Business Services.

On the Republican side, state Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, announced her candidacy for secretary of state last week.

Williamson had pegged herself as the “progressive” choice in the contest, attempting to run to the left of her opponents. Last year, she voluntarily placed limits on what campaign contribution limits she would accept but refused to go along with stricter limits proposed by other candidates.

News of Williamson's decision Monday spurred reaction from House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, a longtime legislative colleague. 

"In my years working with [Williamson], she has proven herself to be a true progressive," Kotek tweeted. "I look forward to seeing what she does next."

Copyright 2020 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.