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After 'Razor-Thin' Win, Sen. Shemia Fagan Offers Preview Of Oregon's Secretary Of State Race

Oregon state Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Portland, at the start of the 2019 legislative session at the State Capitol in Salem, Ore., Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.
Oregon state Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Portland, at the start of the 2019 legislative session at the State Capitol in Salem, Ore., Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.

The Democratic nominee for Oregon's second-highest office addressed supporters publicly for the first time Tuesday. She faces Republican state Sen. Kim Thatcher in the November general election.

In a live appearance on Facebook, the Clackamas Democrat thanked supporters and her two opponents for the Democratic nomination, fellow Sen. Mark Hass and Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a school board member and former congressional candidate. She also touted “the 72 hours that broke the political prediction models here in Oregon,” a reference to The Oregonian erroneously calling the race for Hass on election night.

“I will also not paper over the fact that this was a razor thin victory,” Fagan said. “I will be working hard over the next months to earn the votes of [Hass’s and McLeod-Skinner’s] supporters … It is with indescribable gratitude that I accept the Democratic nomination to be Oregon’s next secretary of state.”

The Democratic race for the state’s second-highest office was the most dramatic of the primary election. Hass led by thousands of votes in early returns, but with each successive update it became clear that late votes had broken Fagan’s way — a late push helped by a wide fundraising advantage that allowed her to advertise heavily. By Friday, three days after the election, Hass conceded.

The most current results, which have yet to be certified, show Fagan winning the race by less than 3,350 votes over Hass, a margin of victory of 0.6%. McLeod-Skinner trailed in the race, but still got more than 27% of the vote.

Fagan, who ran to the left of other candidates in the primary, will now face off against fellow state Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, in the general election. She offered a preview of what to expect in her brief remarks Tuesday.

“We showed that nothing stops democracy in Oregon and we can’t let up on the fight to elect a pro-democracy secretary of state,” she said, adding that she would be “a secretary of state who believes that you have to accept the outcome of elections even if you don’t like them, and that politicians shouldn’t abandon their jobs and leave Oregonians to pick up the tab.”

While Fagan has used that line before, it’s likely to come up more often as she takes on Thatcher, who joined other Senate Republicans in walking away from the Capitol three times in the last two years — twice in order to block Democrats’ signature proposal for fighting climate change, which failed to pass as a result.

With her opponent still unclear on election night, Thatcher said she had an answer ready when her eventual rival raised the issue. She pointed out that Republicans left the building, and therefore denied the Senate a quorum needed to conduct business, because Democrats would not put their policy up for a public vote.

“What happened with the denial of the quorum was really about voters,” Thatcher said. “It was about how they were being shut out of the process.... We just said if you’d let voters weigh in, it wouldn’t have been as big an issue.”

The secretary of state oversees elections, audits, and business administration, and both Thatcher and Fagan say they would prioritize fair elections and fair audits, among other things.

Given the recent gridlock in the Legislature, however, the winner of the November election might have a more-pressing concern. If lawmakers can’t agree on drawing new legislative districts in 2021, it will fall to the secretary to set boundary lines.

“Even though it is a partisan position, I see it as having nonpartisan responsibilities,” Thatcher said. “It needs to be administered that way so that everybody, all Oregonians can feel they are being served well.”

Fagan has similarly pledged to be fair to all, and has made increasing access to the ballot a key piece of her platform. She has also run proudly as a Democrat, and chastised her primary opponents when she felt they weren’t doing so.

On Tuesday, she pledged to be “a secretary of state who believes that, now more than ever, our scarce resources in Oregon need to make a difference in the lives of the people who need them most, and a secretary of state who will stand up to partisan attacks on vote by mail and makes sure your voice is heard even when, and especially when, our voices disagree.”

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 among public radio stations in Oregon and Washington that includes JPR.