Progressive Candidate Mike Schmidt Becomes Multnomah County’s Next District Attorney

By Tiffany Camhi (OPB)
May 15, 2020 10:39 p.m.

Mike Schmidt, the executive director of the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, has won the race to be Multnomah County’s next top prosecutor.

As election results continue to roll in, Schmidt has over 75% of the votes, soundly defeating his opponent, assistant U.S. Attorney for Oregon Ethan Knight.


The job of the district attorney is an especially powerful one, deciding who and which cases to prosecute and establishing criminal justice policies. And being Oregon’s most populous county, the Multnomah County district attorney is also capable of influencing how justice is served statewide.

Related: Fagan Overtakes Hass In Democratic Secretary Of State Race

Schmidt, who built his campaign around using data to transform the office, was seen as the progressive candidate in this race. Schmidt oversaw the state's implementation of data-driven justice reinvestment programs at the agency he leads. He was backed by Gov.r Kate Brown, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese, several immigrant rights groups and he also got a last minute endorsement from musician and criminal justice advocate John Legend on Monday.

This win means the county will follow the nationwide trend of reformer district attorneys being elected into office.


In a press release, Schmidt committed to change in the district attorney’s office.

“The message from Multnomah County voters was loud and clear: They are ready for major reform in our criminal justice system,” Schmidt said. “Tonight, we celebrate a new era for our criminal justice system. But tomorrow, the real hard work of reform begins.”

Schmidt also said his campaign will put together an advisory committee to help him transition into the office next January when he replaces District Attorney Rod Underhill.

In an interview with OPB on election night, Schmidt said he does not plan to mimic other reformer district attorneys across the country and issue widespread pink slips to the county’s senior prosecutors.

Knight was viewed as the establishment candidate. Knight has worked as a prosecutor on the local and federal level for more than 20 years. He was the lead prosecutor in both the Portland Christmas tree bomber case and the Malheur Occupation case. He was largely expected to follow in Underhill's footsteps.

In a tweet, Knight thanked his supporters and congratulated Schmidt on the win.

It’s been nearly 50 years since Multnomah County has had any serious contest for this job. Underhill announced in 2019 that he would not run for office again after his term expires. Knight and Schmidt were the only two candidates in the race.

Although both candidates have some differing views on criminal justice, they agreed on several issues: Both say they would end cash bail, make an effort to hire more attorneys of color and give more financial support to diversion programs like mental health treatment and drug courts.