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November 2020 Election Results

November 2020 Election Results
By: Hasina E. Wittenberg, Government Relations Strategies for SDAO

Voter Turnout
Nearly 3 million people are registered to vote in Oregon, a 15.5% increase from the 2016 election. A portion of the increase in voter registration is attributable to Oregon’s 2016 Motor Voter Act, which made voter registration automatic when Oregonians obtain or renew their driver’s licenses.

During the last two presidential elections, between 80% and 82% of registered voters in Oregon have returned their ballots.  Oregon’s all-time record high voter turnout in a presidential election was set in 2004 when 86.4% of voters cast a ballot in the George Bush vs. John Kerry presidential election. On October 14th, ballots for the 2020 election were mailed to Oregonians. A week later turnout was already 25% (an increase of 230% compared to 2016).

On the Friday immediately preceding an election, typically 50% of the vote has come in. During this November’s election, Friday’s number registered at 61%. The ballot return trend on the Monday prior to the election was down by 50%. That trend continued on Tuesday and roughly 260,000 more ballots were returned. The morning after the election, 73.1% of registered voters had voted. In the end, voter turnout was 81.97% compared it 80.3% in 2016.

Each one of Oregon’s incumbent federal delegation easily won their primary elections and advanced to the general election where they all easily retained their seats.

US Senator Jeff Merkley (D) – 57%; Congressional District #1 Suzanne Bonamici (D) – 65%; Congressional District #3 Earl Blumenauer (D) – 73%; Congressional District #4 Peter DeFazio (D) – 52%; and Congressional District #5 Kurt Schrader (D) – 52%

In Congressional District #2, the retirement of Congressman Greg Walden drew a crowded field of 11 Republicans in the primary election with State Senator Cliff Bentz emerging as the winner. He easily won election to congress with 60% of the vote.

State Treasurer
State Treasurer Tobias Read (D-Beaverton) was reelected as Oregon’s State Treasurer.  In 2016, Read beat Republican Jeff Gudman from Lake Oswego by 2.5% points. Gudman chose to run again along with two third-party candidates.  Read garnered 52% of the vote while Gudman received 42% of the vote, with 6.2% going to the third-party candidates. Read beat Gudman much more handily this time by 10.5%.

Secretary of State
2020 is an important year for a secretary of state's race because it coincides with the once-per-decade federal census. In 2021, the Legislature will redraw legislative boundaries. Last time redistricting took place, the Oregon House was evenly split (30-30), but the boundaries that were redrawn were instrumental in securing the democratic supermajorities both chambers now enjoy.  If legislators cannot agree on the boundaries, the task defaults to the Secretary of State.

Four years ago, despite democrat’s 7% registration edge over Republicans, Dennis Richardson was elected Secretary of State.  Richardson was the first Republican to win statewide office since 2004 when Gordon Smith was elected to the US Senate. Unfortunately, Dennis Richardson died of brain cancer last year and former House Speaker Bev Clarno from Bend was appointed to the seat. Clarno agreed to not seek election to the office.  The open seat was sought by Democrat Shemia Fagan (Portland) who served two terms in the Oregon House before defeating a long-time Democrat incumbent in 2018 to serve in the Oregon Senate. Republican Kim Thatcher (Salem) served in the Oregon House beginning in 2005; she was elected to the Oregon Senate in 2014.

Fagan outspent Thatcher by a three-to-one margin. Of the $3 million she spent, most of it came from organized labor with the state’s biggest public employee union (SEIU) contributing nearly half a million dollars to her race.  She also received $140,000 from the National Redistricting Committee.  Thatcher, on the other hand, didn’t get much support from the Oregon GOP's traditional donors and failed to receive any national money. Of the $1 million she raised, 20% came from a Jackson County resident Francis Fowler (liquor fortune heir of Southern Comfort). Other big contributors to Thatcher include her family and businesses (about $60,000, including loans) and $44,000 from the Timber Unity PAC.

Fagan won the race by 7 points with 50% of the vote. The Secretary of State is next in line to become Governor, should Governor Kate Brown leave office early, and could be in line to run for governor in 2022, when Brown will be term-limited from seeking reelection.

Attorney General
Democratic incumbent Ellen Rosenblum easily won reelection with 56% of the vote.

Referred by the Legislature
During the 2019 Legislative Session, legislators referred two measures to the November 3, 2020 ballot:

Ballot Measure 107 — Amends Constitution: Allows Limiting Political Campaign Contributions & Requires Disclosure of Who Paid for Campaign Advertisements
Yes – 78%
   No – 22%

Oregon’s Constitution currently prohibits campaign contribution limits. This measure allows the legislature, local governments, and/or citizens to limit campaign contributions and expenditures via the initiative petition process. It also requires disclosure of campaign contribution and expenditures. Finally, the measure requires political campaign and election advertisements to identify who paid for them.

Oregon is one of five states with no limits on political campaign donations and ranks No. 1 in per-capita corporate political donations. Yes for Fair and Honest Elections reported receiving nearly $125,000 in cash and in-kind contributions; there was no organized opposition to the measure.

Ballot Measure 108 — Tobacco Tax Increase & New E-Cigarette/Vape Tax 
Yes – 66%
   No – 34%

Under current law, a tax of $1.33 is imposed on each pack of cigarettes. Cigars are taxed at 65% of the wholesale price (up to a maximum of 50 cents per cigar). E-cigarettes and vaping products are not taxed.  This measure increases the tax on cigarettes by an additional $2 per pack and $1 per cigar. E-cigarette and vaping devices would be taxed at 65% of the wholesale price. The package is expected to generate $350.4 million in the 2021-23 biennium. Most of the funds would go to support the Oregon Health Plan, which provides Medicaid coverage to 1 million Oregonians. A portion of the funds are dedicated to tobacco cessation programs and to combating youth tobacco use.

Tobacco companies spent $12 million in 2007 to defeat an Oregon tobacco tax increase; they outspent opponents by $8 million dollars. In California in 2016, tobacco companies outspent proponents by more than 2 to 1 but still lost.

The campaign, Oregonians for a Smoke Free Tomorrow, raised $13.7 million since October 2019 in support of the measure, most of it from health care systems like Providence, Legacy and PeaceHealth. The only political action committee against the proposal, No On 108, raised $7,000 from four vape shops, one of them in Medford, one in Roseburg and two in Portland.

Qualified to Ballot Via Initiative Petition
Qualifying a measure to the ballot via initiative petition can be an exceptionally long and daunting task. Between 2010 and 2018, only one in three initiatives received approval from the Elections Division to circulate for signature gathering.  Of the 314 petitions filed over the past decade, 23 gained the required signatures to qualify for the ballot. Of those, 10 measures were approved by voters. This year only two measures qualified for the ballot via the initiative petition process:

Ballot Measure 109 — Oregon Psilocybin Services Act Allows manufacture, delivery, administration of psilocybin at supervised, licensed facilities; imposes two-year development period
Yes – 56%
   No – 44%

This measure makes Oregon the first state to legalize the manufacture and use of psilocybin, the psychoactive substance from fungus, at licensed therapeutic clinics. Psilocybin has been studied since the 1960s for certain therapies, but its therapeutic use was sidetracked when it became classified by the federal government as a schedule 1 illicit drug in 1970. Denver gained notoriety in 2019 when voters narrowly approved a city ordinance decriminalizing hallucinogenic mushrooms by mental health professionals as part of therapy. So-called “magic mushrooms” are touted for treating depression and anxiety.

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) has two years to set up a licensing program.  The measure stipulates that licenses would be required for anyone wishing to administer psilocybin therapy, cultivate, or service therapists with the compound. The requirements to receive such licenses would be administered by the OHA, as part of a two-year rule-making process. Medical professionals say the science of psilocybin research is not well enough established to sanction.

Washington DC-based New Approach PAC gave $2.52 million to Yes for Psilocybin Therapy to support the measure.

Ballot Measure 110 — Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act Provides statewide addiction/recovery services; marijuana taxes partially finance; reclassifies possession/penalties for specified drugs
Yes – 59%
   No – 41%

The measure has three key components:

  • Reduces misdemeanor drug possession to a non-criminal violation on par with a traffic offense. People with small amounts of drugs including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, LSD, psilocybin, methadone, and oxycodone would get a ticket and face a $100 fine or have the option of being screened for a substance abuse disorder.
  • Decreases penalties for what are now felony drug possession cases, which involve larger quantities. Under Measure 110, most of those offenses would be misdemeanors.
  • Funnels millions in marijuana tax revenue toward what it calls Addiction Recovery Centers, where people can be screened and directed to treatment options. Those tax dollars will also go to a Drug Treatment and Recovery Services Fund overseen by the state that could be used to pay for treatment, housing or other programs designed to address addiction.

This measure will reduce the charges of possession of small quantities of narcotics from a misdemeanor to a violation—the equivalent of a parking ticket. Oregon would be the first state in the nation to do so. Ballot Measure 110 calls for diverting marijuana tax revenue above $45 million to expand access to drug treatment and recovery programs.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration ranks Oregon last in access to drug treatment.

The tax currently produces more than $100 million a year and has been growing at more than $20 million annually. The campaign is endorsed by 50 organizations, including the Oregon AFSCME, Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, ACLU, and Oregon Latino Health Coalition. The Oregon Education Association raised objections that the measure would redirect cannabis tax revenue from schools to drug treatment programs.

The measure is backed by the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, the same criminal justice and drug policy reform group that helped fund Oregon’s successful marijuana legalization effort in 2014. So far, the group’s political arm has given about $3.3 million to the decriminalization effort, including helping fund the signature-gathering phase. Other major funders include Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who along with his wife Priscilla Chan gave $500,000, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, which gave $100,000. In all, the campaign raised about $4.2 million. Opponents raised less than $100,000. In addition, 25 of Oregon's 36 district attorneys, the associations of sheriffs and police chiefs, and some treatment providers oppose the measure. Governor Brown has suggested delaying the financial aspects of Measure 110 until July 2022. Small amounts of drugs would still be decriminalized as of next February, but the funding meant to ensure Oregonians have more treatment options could be put on ice for more than a year.

Oregon State Legislative Races
Prior to the November election, Democrats held 38 seats in the House and 18 in the Senate, enough to pass tax increases without Republican support, but not enough to conduct business without a quorum.  In order to achieve walkout-proof majorities, Democrats needed to pick up two seats in both the House and Senate. That did happen this November. The House Republicans picked up one seat and Senate Republicans maintained their existing numbers.

Senate District 10 (Salem):  Republican Senator Denyc Boles found herself in a tight and expensive race in a district with a slim Democratic registration edge (1.31%). Boles, who works for Salem Health, was appointed to the seat in 2019 after Senator Jackie Winters passed away. Boles’ opponent, Deb Patterson, a pastor and public health advocate, ran against Winters in 2014 and lost by 8 points. This was the most expensive Senate race of 2020. Each candidate brought in $1.27 million.  On election night, the second time turned out to be a charm and Patterson won with 48.93%, Boles received 47.47% of the vote flipping the seat to democratic control (the third-party candidate took 3.4% of the vote).  This race came down to a 1,057 vote margin.

Senate District 5 (South Coast):  Democratic State Senator Arnie Roblan narrowly won his seat in 2016 against Republican Dick Anderson (Lincoln City Mayor) by half a percent or 349 votes.  Roblan announced his intent not to run for reelection this year and Coos County Commissioner Melissa Cribbins (Democrat) filed for election.  Senate District 5’s registration favors Democrats by 3.4 points. Cribbins raised $1.18 million and Republican Dick Anderson, raised $974,000. Anderson’s second time was successful. Anderson won the seat with 49.32% (a 2,035 vote lead) to Cribbin’s 46.59 flipping the seat to republican control.

Senate District 27 (Bend):  Republican Tim Knopp, a Home Builders Association executive, has held this Senate seat since 2013 following three terms as a state representative. His democratic opponent Eileen Kiely ran unsuccessfully last election cycle for the corresponding House seat and lost. The district’s registration favors democrats by almost 5 points but Knopp, a very socially conservative Republican, has crossed the aisle to work with democrats on labor, wage and employment issues recently which clearly helped him have a fighting chance in the district. Senator Knopp won his reelection by 1,546 votes or 50.73% of the vote.

House District 54 (Bend):  Republican Cheri Helt, who was openly vocal about not supporting President Trump and supporting mandatory vaccines, was defeated by deputy district attorney and Bend Parks and Recreation board member Jason Kropf. The district has a 15.74% democratic registration edge and Helt lost by 21% flipping the seat to democratic control.

House District 32 (North Coast):  Democrat State Representative Tiffiny Mitchell chose not to run for reelection making this open House seat the most expensive House race in history. In 2016, now-Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Clackamas) and Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer spent under $2 million. Spending in this race pushed over $2.5 million. Republican Suzanne Webber secured this seat with 54% of the vote flipping control of the seat to the republicans.

House District 9 (South Coast):  Democratic State Representative Caddy McKeown, who has held this seat since 2012, chose not to run for reelection. Former teacher and Republican Boomer Wright out-fundraised his democratic opponent Cal Mukumoto by three to one. The district has a Republican registration edge of 0.89% and Boomer was able to flip the seat to Republican control with 58% of the vote or 15%.

House District 20 (Salem):  House District 20’s registration has consistently moved from being evenly split between Republicans and Democrats to a 5.27% democratic registration edge (in 2018 it was 4.25% and in 2016 it was 3.75%).  State Representative Democrat Paul Evans faced a rematch of his 2018 opponent, Selma Pierce, the recently deceased wife of gubernatorial Republican candidate and oncologist Bud Pierce. In the last election, Pierce contributed $250,000 in personal money to run for the seat. This time, Pierce doubled down and contributed $500,000, but she was unable to compete with Evan’s popularity. Representative Paul Evans was easily reelected to his Salem seat with 52% of the vote (a 4-point margin).  Last election cycle total combined spending in this race topped $1.4 million with Evans spending $850,000 to secure his reelection. This time, Evans spent about half a million to Pierce’s $650,000.

House District 52 (Hood River):  This race was a rematch from the 2018 election, when now State Rep. Anna Williams, a Democrat, beat Republican Jeff Helfrich by a narrow 3-point margin. Democrats maintain a 4.5% registration advantage but both candidates spent over $800,000 each this election cycle.  In the end, Williams was reelected with 94 more votes than Helfrich and barely secured her reelection.