Former Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins is taking over the chairmanship of the state’s Democratic Party.
Atkins was chosen by the party’s state central committee Sunday in an election held in Salem. She replaces retired Portland lawyer Frank Dixon, who did not seek re-election.
On a vote of 84-67, Atkins defeated longtime party official Larry Taylor of Astoria. He backed Bernie Sanders’ presidential candidacy last year and had strong support from many other Sanders followers critical of the party establishment.
As secretary of state, Atkins stayed neutral in the Democratic primary race last year between Sanders and the eventual nominee, Hillary Clinton.
In her race for party chair, Atkins received crucial help from two of the state’s top elected Democrats. Gov. Kate Brown and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, both urged Democratic Party officials to support her.
In 2015, Brown appointed Atkins as secretary of state after ascending from that job to the governorship. And Merkley, the only senator to endorse Sanders in the presidential race, has long worked closely with Atkins. She was his chief of staff when he was speaker of the Oregon House and was his Oregon state director for many years after he joined the Senate.
Atkins and Taylor both said Monday they thought the party would pay more attention to grassroots activists energized by Sanders. They noted that three Sanders supporters won election to top party positions.
Lupita Maurer and Valdez Bravo were chosen as the party’s two vice chairs and Alex Josephy was elected secretary.
Atkins said the grassroots energy among Democrats — also spurred by Donald Trump’s presidential win — gives the party an opportunity to organize outside the cities.
“We have an opportunity,” she said, “during this administration to raise our voices in eastern Oregon and central Oregon and other places where we haven’t been as visible.”
The state Democratic Central Committee also approved a resolution calling for the Legislature to pass a bill aimed at selecting the president by a popular vote.
The bill, which faces an uncertain future in the Legislature, calls for Oregon to join an interstate compact in which each state agrees to give their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote.
The compact would only take effect once states with a majority of electoral votes agree to do so. At this point, 11 states have agreed to join the compact, but it is still 105 electoral votes short of a majority.