Oregon candidates up for election

Matt Brown, News Editor

Now that the Oregon candidate filing deadline has passed, it is evident that national movements to bring new, younger voices into office have trickled into local races. With campaign season almost in full gear, young progressives in Oregon are attempting to make waves to move Oregon’s politics in a younger direction. From local races to statewide elections, these candidates would be celebrating a whole lot of firsts for Oregon if elected.

House District 35, which covers the whole city of Tigard and parts of King City and Tualatin, has been held by Rep. Margaret Doherty for over 10 years. During her tenure, the former teacher’s union advocate and Tigard-Tualatin educator served as the chair of the House committee on education, overseeing passage of the historic Student Success Act. In the wake of her retirement announcement, local Tualatin Valley firefighter and Firefighter’s Union representative Dacia Grayber has emerged as the clear front runner to fill her vacancy this November.

As the founder of the Tigard-based shelter called the Compassionate Care Center, Grayber has been a frequent advocate in Salem for accessible care for all Oregonians. After her husband’s cancer diagnosis in 2018, Grayber organized with lawmakers and lobbied to pass a progressive expansion of paid medical/family leave programs in Oregon.

“I have had the privilege to be part of ground-breaking progressive change,” said Grayber, “and through it all, I’ve seen how effective one brave voice can be in Salem.”

Grayber has emerged as the Big Labor candidate for the Democratic nomination with endorsements from over 14 state labor unions, including the Oregon Education Association, the Tigard-Tualatin Educators Association and several firefighters’ union chapters in the Portland Metro area. 

In an attempt to unseat the current Senate Majority Leader of Oregon, newly-elected Tigard-Tualatin School Board member Ben Bowman has filed to challenge State Senator Ginny Burdick for the seat she has occupied for more than 20 years. At 28 years old, Bowman would be the youngest as well as the first openly-gay senator in Oregon’s history.

“We need a culture change in Oregon’s senate,” said Kavi Shrestha, one of Bowman’s campaign managers. ”We need someone who is going to bring something new to the table and fight to solve issues that are affecting us right now. Ben Bowman will bring that urgency.” 

In a style similar to that of his 2019 bid for the Tigard-Tualatin School Board, Bowman has organized a team of 50 students from various high schools in his district. Students from Tigard, Mountainside, Lincoln and Tualatin high schools have all joined forces to canvass and organize campaign efforts, including a kick-off event on Feb. 29 that attracted more than 300 constituents.

“Oregon is facing serious challenges: a climate emergency, an addiction and mental health crisis, lack of affordable housing, rising health care costs and staggering income inequality,” said Bowman in a statement. “With the Trump Administration’s total incompetence at the national level, Oregon should be a model for progressive problem solving for the rest of the country.”

Considering the uphill climb a campaign against an incumbent is, Bowman has already garnered endorsements from various former Oregon Democratic Party leaders, mayors from surrounding suburban cities, and the Oregon School Employees Association. His progressive campaign is focused on curbing corporate power, allocating more money towards mental health and addiction services and fighting climate change.

After the abrupt dropping out of former House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson due to a campaign finance scandal, the former front runner of the Democratic nomination for Secretary of State has opened room for candidates to pile in on the toss-up race. The latest to join the pool of Democratic hopefuls is Senator Shemia Fegan from Southeast Portland. 

Fagan is currently the youngest sitting senator in the Oregon State Legislature after having unseated Democratic incumbent Rob Monroe in 2018. During the first two years of her four-year term, Fagan has established herself as one of the most progressive senators in the chamber, championing first-of-their-kind caps on rent in Oregon and introducing legislation that would lower Oregon’s voting age from 18 to 16.

Following Williamson’s withdrawal, Fagan has positioned herself as the progressive choice for the nomination aside moderate senator Mark Hass from Beaverton and progressive advocate Jamie McLeod-Skinner. Fagan said in a statement regarding her run that she intends to “bring her authenticity, no-nonsense leadership, and fighting spirit to restore Oregonians’ faith in our democracy.”

While she’s only served two years in the legislature, her progressive record has caught the attention of many popular figures in Oregon government, and she has received the coveted endorsement of Oregon’s first female governor, Barbara Roberts.

Roberts has called Fagan a “once-in-a-generation leader at a time when we face once-in-a-lifetime threats to the integrity of our democracy,” adding that Fagan has “courage, grit, and conviction to meet those threats head on.”

From the state house to statewide, the progressive movement in Oregon seems to be catching fire as younger candidates hop into races this spring. Many are calling for generational change in the legislature following another walkout by the state’s Republican lawmakers.

Even while paths to election will not be certain for many of these candidates, the culture of Oregon’s politics seems to be getting younger, opening the door for more young candidates to run in the future.