Oregon Republican Walkout Spurs Recall Attempt, Campaign Complaint
A legislative standoff has hobbled activity in the Oregon Capitol, but that’s not stopping partisans on either side from action.
As the Republican walkout continued to threaten the fate of the 2020 Legislative session Wednesday, a new recall effort emerged against one of the absent lawmakers, Sen. Chuck Thomsen of Hood River. If organizers can gather enough signatures in Thomsen’s Democrat-leaning district, he could face an election to remove him from office.
At the same time, the Oregon Republican Party has filed a campaign finance complaint against “No More Costly Walkouts,” a coalition and political action committee that’s run an ad campaign critical of absent Republicans. The complaint, filed Wednesday with the Oregon Secretary of State, alleges that the group hasn’t appropriately reported its expenses under state law.
The flurry of activity comes as legislative action has ground to a halt in Salem. Since Republicans in the House and Senate fled last week to block climate change legislation, Democrats have been unable to muster the two-thirds quorum needed to conduct business. If no agreement is reached by Sunday, the 2020 legislative session is in danger of ending with a whimper when its constitutional deadline passes.
Democrats on Wednesday signaled that they’d made no headway in their regular communications with GOP leaders.
“I spoke with [Senate Minority Leader] Herman Baertschiger this morning,” Senate President Peter Courtney said on the Senate floor. “There’s no movement at all.”
The same can’t be said for extracurricular efforts surrounding the boycott.
On Wednesday afternoon, a Hood River resident named Lara Dunn launched a recall petition against Thomsen because of his role in the walkout.
“Senator Chuck Thomsen broke his promise to represent us in the Legislature,” Dunn wrote in a prospective petition. “He stopped going to work but still collected his taxpayer-funded salary and daily stipend. He must be recalled and replaced by someone who will show up and fight for our jobs, our schools, our healthcare and our future.”
In order to force a recall election, Dunn’s petition effort must gather 9,025 valid signatures by June 2, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Thomsen’s district stretches from the suburbs of Portland east to Hood River. The district contains around 7,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, but non-affiliated voters make up the largest bloc.
A call to Thomsen wasn’t immediately returned Wednesday. The senator had previously told OPB he planned to head for warm weather if a walkout occurred, and that he’d packed polo shirts and shorts.
Dunn, a speech pathologist who serves on the board for Columbia Area Transit, said she "talked to a lot of people" before deciding to file the recall petition. She acknowledged she's potentially working with groups like Our Oregon, a labor-backed organization that is big player in Oregon progressive politics.
The petition marks the fourth recent effort to target a state elected official for recall.
Last year, two sometimes-dueling campaigns tried unsuccessfully to recall Gov. Kate Brown. And last September the group Timber Unity launched a failed attempt to recall state Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell, D-Astoria. None of those efforts succeeded in gathering enough signatures to spur a recall election.
The complaint against No More Costly Walkouts hinges on Facebook ads the group has purchased since late January.
According to the website, more than $9,000 has been spent on the ads to-date. Republican Party officials point out that an affiliated political action committee was only created last week, and they say that runs afoul of state law.
“State law requires that such a political action committee must fully report its existence not later than three business days after first receiving a contribution or making an expenditure,” the GOP said in a release. The complaint also says that the anti-walkout group failed to report applicable contributions and expenditures when it filed its PAC, as required.
“It’s astounding that such a shadowy group directly involved in running political ads in Oregon on the most visible and controversial issue in state politics today would so openly flout what Oregon’s campaign finance reporting laws minimally require,” the Oregon GOP said in a statement.
No More Costly Walkouts, which has also purchased ads in the Oregonian, says the party is off base. It says there's no requirement to even file a political action committee based on the "issue ads" it's running — even though some of those ads feature Republicans currently running for re-election.
"This is ridiculous and designed to divert attention away from their taxpayer-funded vacation," the group said in a statement. "There is no legal requirement to create a PAC to run issue ads, however in an overabundance of transparency once the walkout started, we created the No Costly Walkouts political action committee."
The PAC is directed by Becca Uherbelau, executive director of Our Oregon. A host of other organizations are affiliated with the effort as well.
Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting