Oregon attorney general candidates bring competing visions to the role

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
May 6, 2024 1 p.m.

This year’s race for Oregon’s top lawyer has drawn three central candidates.

Candidates for Oregon Attorney General in 2024, from left to right: Dan Rayfield, Shaina Maxey Pomerantz and Will Lathrop.

Candidates for Oregon Attorney General in 2024, from left to right: Dan Rayfield, Shaina Maxey Pomerantz and Will Lathrop.

Courtesy of campaigns

The last time Oregon had an open attorney general seat on the ballot, things got pricey.


The 2012 Democratic primary for the position overseeing the Oregon Department of Justice saw two candidates spend a combined $1.7 million, in a hard-fought contest won by Ellen Rosenblum.

Now Rosenblum is retiring, the seat is open once more, and Oregon primary voters are in for less of a slugfest.

Related: OPB's Ballot Guide: Meet the candidates and learn what's at stake in Oregon's May 21 primary election

Vying for the seat on the Democratic side are state Rep. Dan Rayfield of Corvallis, who recently served as House speaker, and Shaina Maxey Pomerantz, a former state employee who runs the Portland nonprofit Race Talks.

Among Republicans, only Will Lathrop, a former prosecutor and international human rights worker, has raised money for a run.

The race shows no sign of the massive spending voters saw 12 years ago — that will likely wait until the general election in November. But the three candidates do offer meaningful differences in how they’d like to do the job of Oregon’s top lawyer.

Much of that role is likely unfamiliar to many voters.

The Department of Justice has high-profile duties like jumping into lawsuits that can impact the national legal landscape — a move Rosenblum used repeatedly when she sued the Trump administration alongside other Democratic attorneys general. The office also assists in criminal prosecutions and handles appeals of criminal cases.

But the DOJ does far more, including filing class-action lawsuits against huge corporations, advising state agencies on legal matters, and enforcing child support laws. In all, the attorney general oversees 1,500 employees and a two-year budget of more than $800 million.

Here’s a rundown of the central candidates this year.


Dan Rayfield

In some ways, Rayfield’s pursuit of the attorney general job amounts to a slide down the Salem power hierarchy. House speaker — the role he held for a little more than two years before voluntarily stepping aside in March — is one of the most influential roles in all of state government. The speaker has a major say on what bills pass and how billions of dollars are spent.

But Rayfield, an Oregon-born trial attorney, said last year he’d gotten excited about the possibilities that come with being the state’s lawyer. He has talked increasingly in recent years about witnessing his mother’s substance abuse while he was growing up, and his own arrests for drunken driving and property destruction as a teenager in Tigard. In a 2022 speech in the House he said he’d hit “rock bottom” when he was fired from working the Jungle Cruise at Disney World.

Rayfield, now in his fifth term in the House, has said that history gives him a belief in the importance of second chances that he’d bring to the attorney general’s office.

Oregonians this year are concerned about crime and the spread of fentanyl — one reason why “public safety” is a top plank for Rayfield. But he is quick to point out that criminal prosecution is a relatively small piece of the office.

“People will always think about the attorney general… as being the top law enforcement officer,” Rayfield said. “However, it is less than 8% of the budget in the grand scheme of what you do as the attorney general.”

Rayfield helped pass a budget last year that included more resources for the DOJ’s organized crime division. As attorney general, he says he would focus those new staffers on priorities like drug trafficking, including helping smaller counties with limited resources investigate and prosecute dealers.

“What I would like to do is use that criminal justice division in partnership with your local DAs to say, ‘Okay, what are the biggest issues we’re seeing in our communities and how can we work together collaboratively to basically attack that issue?’” Rayfield said.

Among a laundry list of additional ideas that Rayfield says he’d pursue: intervening in national attempts to roll back environmental protections, streamlining contract review to help state housing funding get out the door, speeding up some lawsuits against the state by instituting a stronger dispute resolution process, and creating a “working families unit” to tackle issues like wage theft and child labor laws.

Rayfield says he is also interested in taking a strong role in suing companies that harm Oregon’s pension investments by committing fraud and other misconduct. That’s a piece of the attorney general’s purview that led to a windfall in political donations for Rosenblum from out-of-state law firms interested in such work.

Rayfield told OPB he’s open to accepting the same donations, but they haven’t yet emerged. Even so, the candidate has raised more than a quarter million dollars this year.

Shaina Maxey Pomerantz


Pomerantz was a late entry into the attorney general’s race, raising questions among some politicos about her intentions when she filed to run in the Democratic primary on the last possible day.

Pomerantz is the executive director of Race Talks, a Portland nonprofit that hosts forums touching on social justice and open communication between people from different races and backgrounds. She said she’d grown worried about national efforts to undermine affirmative action and diversity, equity and inclusion policies. She didn’t see those concerns reflected in the slate of candidates.

“I said, ‘No one is talking about equality and justice and the preservation of the type of work I do,” she told OPB. “I saw there was a problem, I didn’t see anybody else stepping up to address it. And I said, ‘Fine, it’ll be me.’”

Pomerantz spent much of her career as an educator in California and New York before getting a law degree. She didn’t go into law, though, instead briefly taking a job as a legislative aide to former Oregon state Rep. Diego Hernandez, then directing the writing center at Concordia University. In 2020, she became a civil rights investigator at the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries.

Pomerantz worked at BOLI for just eight months before becoming one of two Black employees in the agency to sue over racial discrimination. The other employee, Carol Johnson, was awarded $1.7 million after a jury trial. Pomerantz settled her case for $425,000.

The experience informed a key piece of Pomerantz’s interest in running for attorney general. She says she saw missed opportunities for the DOJ to intervene to address employees’ concerns before legal action became necessary.

“A lot of people who experience some kind of discrimination or something that happens on their job – especially if they like the job and they want to keep doing the job – nine times out of 10, they want an opportunity to problem solve,” she said. “I’m proposing an idea to look at a really complex problem... and say, can we maybe reimagine how we do this?”

Central to Pomerantz’s platform is a proposal to expand the DOJ’s civil rights office, a suggestion she says she has helped get Rayfield to adopt. She also wants to make the agency more understandable and accessible to citizens.

Pomerantz concedes that her late entry didn’t give her much time to collect endorsements and raise campaign funds. She’s reported raising less than $10,000 to date, much of that money in the form of a $5,000 loan to her own campaign.

“I look at my campaign definitely as a grassroots community effort,” she said. “I think no one should be running unopposed for office. Period.”


Will Lathrop

Lathrop is the only Republican candidate raising money in the attorney general’s race this year — and he’s raised a lot: more than $700,000 since he started pursuing the position in 2022.

Lathrop is also the only candidate from either political party with extensive experience as a prosecutor. Raised in Eastern Oregon, he was an assistant district attorney in Yamhill and Marion Counties from 2005 to 2014, trying serious crimes like child sexual abuse.

Then he made a striking pivot, accepting a job with International Justice Mission, a faith-based human rights nonprofit that gave him postings in Uganda and Ghana. In the latter role, Lathrop oversaw the organization’s operations, which included training judicial officials and working with authorities to rescue children who were being trafficked.

During that time overseas, Lathrop says he and his family returned to Oregon regularly.

“We kept coming back to Oregon, and every year it was getting worse and worse,” he said. “It was like watching the frame-by-frame death of a state, and I felt like there was a failure of leadership.”

Lathrop moved back for good in 2022, and he’s been putting together a run for attorney general ever since.

He is focusing his campaign on fighting crime — along with the ways he thinks the DOJ has gotten away from principles like protecting victims.

“It would be a mistake to look at the priorities of the last 10 years of the Department of Justice and say that that’s calcified as what they are,” he told OPB in an interview. “The Department of Justice prior to Ellen Rosenblum’s leadership has led the victim’s rights movement in Oregon and made us one of the strongest public safety states.”

Lathrop says he’d prioritize the DOJ’s role in fighting organized crime — with an emphasis on drug trafficking.

“I’m going to rebuild the organization and make sure that we’re all working together to push the supply of drugs out of our state because people are making millions of dollars off of crushing families and exploiting addiction,” Lathrop said.

He’s also focused on tackling government waste, saying he’ll launch investigations and pursue criminal consequences against anyone who misappropriates state money.

And Lathrop envisions a system where his DOJ acts as a check against the executive powers of the governor, using its attorneys to rein in state agencies if they try to exceed their authority.

What he won’t do is commit to using the position to intervene in national legal matters, as Rosenblum has done and as both Democratic candidates emphasize.

“When we’re doing things well, when we have cleaned up our own mental health issues, addiction issues, crime issues, our education system’s thriving, our economy as well, and people aren’t fleeing the heart of our entire state… then I’ll start worrying about what’s happening in somebody else’s state,” Lathrop said. “But right now, I’m going to be laser focused on making Oregon better.”

Lathrop does face one opponent in the primary: Michael Cross, an entrepreneur and the GOP’s 2020 attorney general nominee. Cross is not an attorney — which is not a requirement to be attorney general – and has not reported raising any money on this year’s campaign.