For the second year running, the Oregon Republican Party plans to mount a campaign to recall Gov. Kate Brown, saying it’s better prepared than ever to bounce a governor who’s faced pushback for recent emergency orders.
But the party has at least one problem: People who agree that Brown should be removed.
Like last year — when the party failed to force a recall election against Brown after battling a rival recall petition for the electorate's affections — the GOP has competition this year. In recent weeks, two Oregonians have filed petitions aiming to recall Brown for, among other things, emergency orders she's issued to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
It’s not clear that either of those petitioners have the capability to meet the extremely high bar for a recall election, which requires collecting 280,050 valid signatures in just 90 days. But they do have a message: Either the GOP can join them, or it can prepare to have its recall campaign once again diluted.
“I have not circulated, in an effort to only circulate one petition,” said Kurt Saindon, a Waldport resident who initiated a recall against Brown on April 30.
Saindon said he’s instead agreed to help out with the second petition, filed less than a week after his by a Phoenix, Oregon, school-bus driver named Kelsey Massey. That will change if the Oregon Republican Party begins its own effort, he said.
“If the ORP circulates, there’s going to be three petitions, because I will go circulating,” Saindon said. “If there’s going to be two petitions, there might as well be three. There might as well be four.”
Even if Saindon doesn't follow through, the concurrent recall campaigns make the Oregon Republican Party’s task more difficult.
Last October, when the party declined to turn in the recall signatures it had gathered because there were too few, party chairman Bill Currier attributed the recall effort's failure to a rival campaign. He told conservative talk radio host Lars Larson at the time that the party had identified tens of thousands of voters who'd signed one petition, but not the other.
“There were enough signatures collected … they just cannot be combined,” Currier said.
Currier and an Oregon Republican Party spokesman have so far declined to be interviewed about the GOP's forthcoming recall campaign, but Currier has suggested on social media that he’s not worried about competition this time around.
“While it is unfortunate that there will now be more than one recall petition, because it causes confusion for voters, it also has the benefit of helping raise awareness with voters,” Currier wrote in a May 16 Facebook post. “We all want Kate Brown removed from office, and almost all interested voters will eagerly sign all recall petitions made available to them.”
Problems arise, Currier noted, when a person signs the same petition twice, thinking they’re signing a different recall effort. Duplicate signatures are tossed by elections officials, and can give campaigns an inflated notion of their actual signature count.
But the GOP said it has a solution for that this time around. In the past six months, Currier said, the party has been developing an app that will allow petition gatherers in the field to determine whether a person is a registered voter, and whether they have already signed the petition.
That “virtually eliminates the possibility of signing our petition twice,” Currier wrote. “It also helps ensure that the signatures we submit to the Secretary of State will be nearly 100% valid.”
Technology or no, those forming up against Brown face an unprecedented challenge: collecting an enormous amount of signatures in just three months when many Oregonians have had the concept of social distancing drilled into them since March.
A stay-home order issued by Brown more than two months ago has already likely doomed the fate of many campaigns looking to land measures on the November ballot.
But social distancing might not prove as large a factor for the GOP effort. Stay-home restrictions have begun to lift in most of the state, and voters who oppose Brown might actually be more likely to sign because of those restrictions. While early polling suggested Brown's orders were popular, the governor has faced lawsuits and protests around directives that closed many Oregon businesses and restricted worship services.
Still, a successful recall is an extremely heavy lift. Even if Republicans successfully forced a recall election against Brown, they would still have to convince voters to eject her despite having reelected her in 2018.
Those factors — combined with the fact that successful recalls are frequently based in scandal, not policy — led many to question last year's recall effort.
“I’m giving this a zero chance of being successful,” Dan Lavey, a political consultant who has run campaigns for moderate Republicans in Oregon, told OPB last year. “This is a Hail Mary pass that is going to go ridiculously out of bounds.”
According to campaign finance records, a committee associated with the Republican Party recall effort has raised more than $12,000 this year, though most of that came from the party itself.
Brown’s political action committee, meanwhile, has raised more than $700,000 since the start of 2019, despite the governor being barred by term limits from running for reelection. She has more than $800,000 on hand, records show.
Brown’s political team did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the recalls, though the governor roundly dismissed last year's efforts.
For their recall campaign, Saindon and Massey are largely relying on word of mouth and the internet. They’re hoping to spur voters to print out signature forms at home, sign and send them in to be tallied.
Massey’s effort has also scheduled “drive-up” signature-gathering events. “You pull up, sign the sheet and drive off,” she said.
In filing to begin her recall petition, Massey offered a familiar list of reasons for wanting Brown recalled, ranging from the governor’s support for cap-and-trade policy, to Brown's signing of a bill that granted driving privileges to undocumented immigrants. The language, in fact, hewed extremely closely to the recall effort Republicans launched last year, though Massey insisted she had not seen that.
“I think she’s failed all of her people and I think we no longer have a voice with the governor,” said Massey, who added that she’d only recently grown interested in state issues.
While she wouldn't go into detail about who she was working with on the campaign, her effort has the backing of the group Oregon Women for Trump.
Massey said she's personally turned in hundreds of signatures since beginning the petition in early May, but said she could not say how many the campaign has collected in total. Asked whether she would be willing to ditch her campaign to join forces with a Republican Party effort, she demurred.
“I don’t even know what’s going on with the Oregon Republican Party right now,” she said. “I almost feel like that would be a slap in the face to everybody who has signed my petition.”
Asked about the competing efforts, the Oregon GOP sent OPB a statement.
“Any effort this group launches will be powerful enough to reach its goal and get across the finish line successfully, leveraging the progress that was already made during 2019's recall,” Oregon Republican Party spokesman Kevin Hoar wrote. “If anything, the energy behind such an effort would be even greater now, than it was a year ago."