The Oregon Democratic Party recaptured the one statewide elected seat held by a Republican, with state Sen. Shemia Fagan leading the Oregon secretary of state race according to unofficial returns updated Wednesday morning.
Fagan, of Portland, was holding a commanding lead over the Republican candidate Sen. Kim Thatcher of Keizer.
“It appears likely that I will be your next secretary of state,” Fagan told supporters on Tuesday night. “This is an incredible thing for me to be able to utter as a kid who grew up raised by a single dad in Wasco County, a proud graduate of public schools in Dufur and The Dalles, while my mom battled addiction and homelessness in Portland. To be able to have your trust to be the next secretary of state is an incredible honor.”
Fagan also took the opportunity to tout Oregon’s vote-by-mail system while speaking, noting there have been a lot of unexpected challenges in the recent months, but the “resiliency of Oregon’s vote-by-mail system" has remain unchanged, she said.
“As the nation waits for the results of the presidential election, we get to show them how we do it here in Oregon — that it doesn’t matter that we get the results early. It doesn’t matter that we get the results when we want them. It matters that we get the results right,” Fagan said.
Thatcher, the Republican challenger, thanked her supporters Tuesday night, but stopped short of conceding. She said there are still too many ballots that have yet to be counted.
“All I know is we ran a hard campaign,” Thatcher told supporters. “We did well and we did as good as we could given the fact that we were outspent 3 to 1.”
The role of Oregon secretary of state will be a particularly weighty one next year, since the task of figuring out how to redraw legislative boundaries could fall to the office’s holder. The position, currently held by Republican Bev Clarno is also charged with overseeing auditing, elections, archives and the state business registry. The secretary of state also has a seat on the State Land Board. And she is next in line to become governor if the state’s top elected official resigns or dies while serving; that is how Gov. Kate Brown first became Oregon’s chief executive, succeeding John Kitzhaber when he resigned from office in 2015.
The high-stakes race generated a lot of interest and money. Fagan received most of her financial backing from public employee unions, which helped her win a highly competitive primary race in May for the Democratic nomination. Thatcher’s biggest single benefactor was Southern Oregon resident Francis E. Fowler IV, who donated $100,000 to her campaign. She also received support from timber groups, such as Timber Unity, gun advocates and business organizations.
Fagan, an employment attorney who served two terms in the state House before winning election to the state Senate in 2018, promised to use the office to expand voter engagement and turnout. In the past, she was part of a push to expand the state’s automatic voter registration, putting paid postage on the ballots and she unsuccessfully pushed to lower Oregon’s voting age to 16.
Fagan also said she would use the platform to protect democracy. One example she gave was trying to ensure those who stage a walkout during a legislative session — like the Republicans did in order to protest a bill to curb climate change — aren’t paid while not working at the Capitol.
Thatcher’s legislative career started in the state House in 2005 before she was elected to the Senate in 2014. She promised if elected to oversee the office in a nonpartisan fashion. She said she would model herself after former Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, who died in 2019 while serving in office. Like Richardson, Thatcher is a stalwart conservative who opposes abortion rights and was against a measure that would have banned discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation. Thatcher promised to use the office to serve as a check on power and to hold people accountable.
Thatcher, who served as a delegate for then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016, said that despite the president’s efforts to cast doubt on vote-by-mail, she believes the system is sound and concerns of potential fraud are largely unwarranted.
Both candidates pledged their support for campaign finance limits. And both agreed that if the job of redrawing Oregon’s legislative and congressional boundaries falls to the secretary of state, they would rely on an independent commission to draw the districts.