This month, we invited nine of the candidates vying to be Oregon’s next governor for interviews. The seat is open for the first time since 2015. Patrick Starnes is a cabinet maker and home restorer who ran on the Independent Party ticket in 2018. Now he’s running in the Democratic primary. Starnes’ primary issue is putting a cap on campaign donations.
The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer:
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. As you may have heard, we’ve been talking to some of the candidates for Oregon governor over the last few weeks. We turn to Patrick Starnes right now; he’s a home restorer and cabinetmaker from Brownsville who ran for governor in 2018 as an Independent. He’s running as a Democrat this year, but his big issue remains the same: campaign finance reform. Patrick Starnes, welcome back to Think Out Loud.
Patrick Starnes: Thanks David. It’s good to be back.
Miller: It’s good to have you on again. As I noted, your number one issue, once again, is campaign finance reform. So let’s start there. Why is this the most important issue for you?
Starnes: It affects so many other issues like your earlier part of your show. When you have big developers, when you have health insurance companies trying to dominate Oregon’s health insurance, when you have fossil fuel companies dominating politics on climate change, and then there’s the big timber money that some of my opponents are getting that dominates the forest reform. So besides campaign finance reform, I’d like to work on – after we cure that – work on health care reform, carbon reform is what I like to call it, and also other reforms.
Miller: You’ve said, you’re the only candidate in the race who’s going to enact campaign finance reform in your first 100 days. What exactly do you have in mind?
Starnes: Well, I cannot enact it myself. The legislature has to set those limits, and that’s what was disappointing. After we passed the constitutional amendment that finally allowed us to set limits in 2020 – that was Measure 107 – and we knocked it out of the ballpark, Dave, with almost 80%. Seventy-eight percent of us wanted campaign finance limits set. What’s disappointing is the former speaker didn’t set those limits in 2021. So what I’ll do in our first 100 days is build a table to bring senators from the right and the left together since this measure passed, [Measure] 107 passed across the state. The lowest support for it was in Lake County, which is a red county, with 60%. So, across the state, it was very popular and very bipartisan. That’s the table we have to build because that’s the table the former speaker failed to build in the 2021 session and then in the short session. I was disappointed that they didn’t tackle that issue.
Miller: Okay, I’m glad for the clarification because, as it reads on your campaign website, it says you’re the one who’s going to enact this reform in your first 100 days. So what you’re saying now is you’re going to use the bully pulpit to try to convince lawmakers to do what they have not done yet.
Starnes: Yeah, exactly.
Miller: But what is your plan to do that? You will be an outsider coming into the governor’s office. What are you going to do to try to get them to do what they have not done before?
Starnes: Well, in 2019, I went door to door in Salem meeting with almost all 90 state senators and state representatives to get them to refer the constitutional amendment to the voters, which they did. Only five of them, out of the 90, voted against referring that constitutional amendment to the voters, Measure 107. So I have that experience of getting that bipartisan support to the table. But what I heard when I went door to door was that Democrats were worried about the big corporate donors or the big Phil Knight donors, and the Republicans were worried about the big PAC donations. That’s why in our campaign – we are a people powered campaign – we’ve set our limit to $1000 per person, and we’re not accepting any corporate money or any PAC money. We’re the only candidate in the Democratic governor’s race who’s set those limits because I feel strongly that we have to role model those limits. Then, when we win in the primary, that will send the message clearly across the state that this is…
Miller: So what are the limits you would like to see? If your big plan is to convene lawmakers and to get them to actually enact meaningful campaign finance reform, what do you want to see in terms of limits for contributions and from what kinds of groups and/or limits on campaign spending?
Starnes: The U.S. Constitution doesn’t allow us to limit campaign spending. But what I am role modeling is exactly what we can do. Ten states across the country have a $1000 limit, including Kentucky. So that, we know, has passed the court test. There are many states that have banned corporate money and they’ve also banned PAC money. I think that puts the pressure on the lawmakers to just collect small donations from– just like your city council race members you just interviewed: They’re using small donors to get the word out, and that puts pressure on them to work on the people’s issues rather than the corporate issues, which is going on currently, or the special PAC money interests.
Miller: Do you primarily want to be the governor of Oregon or do you more want to use this race as a way to continue to bring attention to the issue of campaign finance reform?
Starnes: No, I would easily say both. No, there are many issues I’m passionate about besides campaign finance reform, like building permanent housing. Your earlier guests were talking about the crisis of the housing in Oregon. Also, to tackle the carbon reform is crucial. During that heat dome last June, we had 600 deaths in North America. So climate change is killing people.
Miller: Let’s turn to this then: I’m sure you’re aware of Governor Brown’s executive action on climate change two years ago following Republican walkouts to prevent legislation to reduce carbon emissions in this state. How would you address climate change or greenhouse gas emissions as governor?
Starnes: Well, of course, the first thing we have to do is have campaign finance reform so that the state senators won’t walk out. Because when they walked out to Idaho, the Koch brothers, which is a fossil fuel family, paid for their hotel rooms. We have to stop the big money in Salem first, but then I would focus on our transportation system. Over one third, 38%, of our carbon footprint in Oregon is our transportation. When you come to the tri-county metro area, it’s 42%. I believe there’s a lot we can do to get cleaner and greener on our transportation. That will bring that impact down.
Miller: What do you mean in particular? What would you do as governor to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector?
Starnes: Great, that’s where I was going. I would again have the bully pulpit to amend the constitution. Oregon was one of the first in 1919 to set a gas tax, first in the country. You can imagine Standard Oil, back in the day, was freaking out about that, but now it’s coast to coast. Gas tax helps us build roads. But in 1980 during the Reagan era, a special interest group amended the constitution with Measure 1; you can look it up. Originally it went for roads, state parks and state troopers, but this special interest group made the gas tax only go for road building. That’s why you see the pressure to expand the freeways and not to do more with public transit. So what I’m talking about with carbon reform and using the bully pulpit of the governor’s office to amend the constitution…
Miller: Just so I understand, you’re saying using the bully pulpit to convince voters to amend the Oregon constitution?
Starnes: Yeah, and convince the legislature to refer that measure to the voters, so we don’t have to go through the cumbersome problem of gathering signatures. And get this popular reform – which Oregonians I believe really want – to allow us to use our gas tax, or our carbon revenue, for more than just building more roads, because the studies show that building more roads just means more cars parked and on the freeway. We can make our public transit faster, free and frequent; that’s what’s missing. We have examples in Oregon: Corvallis has a free transit system, which is not only good for all the OSU students but it’s also important for the elderly or low income families that are trying to get to their health clinic or out of their food desert. This clean and green electric transit across the state will be a huge impact on our carbon footprint. But we have to amend the constitution because we’re sort of locked in with all of our carbon revenue only going to road building.
Miller: Patrick Starnes, we have 30 seconds left. In 2018 you ran as an Independent. You could have done that again. Why run as a Democrat this year?
Starnes: As you remember, I endorsed Governor Brown at the last minute in order to get this constitutional amendment for campaign finance reform. And I used to be a Democrat in the Douglas County Democrats when John Kitzhaber was first elected governor. After January 6th, it was an easy return to come back to the Democratic Party. But we have to fight the corporate Democrats and we have to have a people powered campaign like mine. Remember the new polling, David, shows that Tina and Tobias are tied, but the largest percentage of voters are undecided.
Miller: Patrick Starnes, thank you very much for joining us. I appreciate your time.
Starnes: I wish it was longer. Next time.
Miller: Next time. Patrick Starnes is a Democratic candidate for Oregon governor.
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