OPB asked each of the Democratic candidates for secretary of state to fill out questionnaires on their qualifications and positions on key issues. Responses have been edited for brevity.
Democratic candidates are touting many of the same ideas: same-day voter registration, ranked choice voting, stronger public records provisions, etc. Why are you best suited to help move those forward?
Shemia Fagan: I am the only candidate running for Secretary of State who has a proven track record of leading the fights on the expanding access to voting: automatic voter registration, pre-paid postage for ballots, creating the small business advocate within the Secretary of State's office, exposing dark money in campaigns, and championing campaign finance reforms that amplify the voices of ordinary Oregonians — not corporations. I have demonstrated statewide leadership on these issues, and I am eager to continue the work to make our government work for more Oregonians in every corner of our state.
Mark Hass: First, my experience of working with others is well known. I learned long ago at the Capitol that when you respect others, they respect you. This is how I've been able to pass significant legislation. Second, I have a history of working in the policy areas required in the Secretary of State's job; campaign finance reform, elections, redistricting. I will hit the ground running — I already have a 90-day agenda with detailed proposals from election security to ranked choice voting to taking better care of Oregon foster kids. I am the only candidate with detailed white papers on a long list of policies and proposals. I have studied and put thought into all of them, based on experience and conversations with Oregonians. I understand the depth and nuances of each one. To me, these policies are much more complex than three or four word headlines. Oregonians deserve a Secretary of State who is intentional and thoughtful when making public policy.
Jamie McLeod-Skinner: The others have either not made it a priority, or they have tried and failed. It is notable that those in the position necessary to change our laws (or to put constitutional changes on the ballot for dropping the voting age) are not getting the job done while in the Legislature. I am better suited to this task because I have a greater political tool-belt and relationships outside the political bubble of the Capitol. During most of my nine years of elected office, in urban and rural areas, I was in the political minority. That experience teaches you to develop a range of political tools to enable you to work with others to accomplish your policy goals. The lack of such experience, often seen in policymakers who have only been in the majority, is to only develop one tool: a hammer; and to see everything they want to change as a nail. This helps explain the level of divisiveness in the Legislature.
Are Oregon’s election secure? Why or why not?
Shemia Fagan: Oregon's strong paper-ballot system is a strength that makes our system more secure than other states' because you can't hack paper. But we certainly have areas to strengthen our security, specifically securing our online voter registration system. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed one key challenge to our otherwise strong paper-ballot system: We currently only count those ballots received by mail at the elections office or an official drop site by 8:00 p.m. on Election Day, which means later voters rely disproportionately on drop sites. I will create an election security master plan that considers not just previously identified threats but also potential ones. I will reverse Secretary Clarno's decision to privatize our election security, ending the pilot projects exploring voting via web-based apps. In reality, if malicious forces want to undermine our elections, they only need to convince voters they did, so we must counter misinformation.
Mark Hass: They are not as secure as they should be. Oregon is protected from massive voter fraud thanks to our popular Vote by Mail. However, technology experts warn that our vulnerability is the data base of 2.8 million registered voters. We need to upgrade the protective firewalls that exist today, which are merely in compliance with federal law. Let's not wait for an elections emergency to test those firewalls. (We saw what happened with the rickety computers in the Employment Department when thousand of Oregonians filed for benefits.) As Secretary of State, I would create an office of Elections Cybersecurity to protect our data base and secure every aspect of our elections.
Jamie McLeod-Skinner: Oregon's elections are more secure than most states, courtesy of our paper ballot system and the dedication of our county clerks. But every system is vulnerable. We need a point person whose sole job is election security — I have said I would appoint an Election Security Officer to "think like a hacker" and find weaknesses in our system and engage a continuous improvement process for our elections. We need to make sure our IT systems are up to date and auditable. And we need to maintain support for, fully resource and continue ongoing training for, our county clerks.
I would audit our elections to determine discrepancies in voter turnout. And I would require county clerks to reach out to a voter when there is a question regarding a signature match rather than simply not counting the ballot.
Democrats were unsuccessful in winning this seat in 2016. What makes you the most likely Democrat to prevail in the general election?
Shemia Fagan: I grew up poor in small towns in rural Eastern Oregon — Dufur and The Dalles. My mother battled homelessness and addiction, and my father struggled financially to raise three kids as a single father. As an Oregon lawmaker, I have won swing districts consisting of rural, suburban and urban communities, from Boring and Damascus, to Happy Valley and East Portland. As a civil rights attorney and an Oregon lawmaker, I have consistently centered hardworking and struggling Oregonians at the center of my efforts — regardless of where they live in this state. I'm in this race to fight for my fellow Oregonians, not corporations or the powerful. I'm the only candidate in the race who has won tough elections in Oregon, and I've won three.
Mark Hass: I understand the power, authority and limitations of this office. Oregonians want someone who knows what they're doing and isn't trying to be all things all people. My experience — especially in elections and campaign finance reform — gives me a strong advantage. As a lawmaker, my reputation seeking bipartisan solutions is appealing to a wide cross section of of our state. Oregonians from all parties put a premium on independence and integrity. I have proven myself in these areas for 20 years.
Jamie McLeod-Skinner: I have already earned the difference in votes. In 2018, I outperformed our re-elected governor by 4% in the toughest congressional district for a Democrat to win votes. My vote total, earned in an off-year election, was 26% greater than the 2016 Democratic nominee for secretary of state in the 2nd congressional district. I won two counties (Deschutes and Hood River) that no other Democratic congressional candidate has not won in decades. My team — and army of volunteers made up of Oregonians looking for responsive and accountable leadership — resulted in the largest vote swing of any congressional race in the country. We accomplished that by showing up, listening, and talking about ideas that are good for all Oregonians
Some have accused former Secretary of State Dennis Richardson of conducting political audits. Has the audit function been used appropriately in the Secretary of State’s office since 2017? If not, what would you change?
Shemia Fagan: There is substantial room for improvement when it comes to the role of audits within the Secretary of State's office. The most important role of the Audits Division is conducting oversight with the intention of ensuring best practices rather than simply playing "gotcha". Rather than a weapon, I view audits as a tool for improving public services, work environments, citizen experience, and overall governance. Furthermore, instead of relying primarily on views from managers, I see audits as an opportunity to amplify the voices of front-line workers, integrating their perspectives and experiences into any proposed solutions.
Mark Hass: The Constitution gives wide discretion to the Secretary of State to conduct audits, so I'm not going to second guess anyone. However, I would be more "hands on" in the audits process. Oregonians want their tax dollars spent wisely. It's the duty of the Secretary of State to hold state agencies accountable. I take this responsibility very seriously. In addition, I will change the audits protocol so that a carbon analysis is done on every single audit to ensure state government is doing all it can to address climate change.
Jamie McLeod-Skinner: While the performance audits are going to start including some equity and sustainability components, I would like to also see some audits specifically target those areas. I would also like to include worker safety and information security audits. State agencies are supposed to audit their contractors, and I would both make that expectation clear and include those entities in our audits of state agencies. When the results of an audit include notable findings, I would engage more proactively with the agency to identify their plan for addressing the findings, then have the report-out include: what is working well, what the findings are, and the plan to address the findings. It is my understanding that Secretary Clarno is using this approach; the prior "audit result by press release" was problematic and sometimes appeared to focus more on politics than good governance.
You have all spoken out against changing Oregon’s redistricting process, which some feel will position the Democrats to redraw maps in their favor next year. Why should we stick with the current system?
Shemia Fagan: Let's be clear: Drawing maps to favor any political party, incumbent, or person is against Oregon law (ORS 188.010(2)). Any Oregon citizen can challenge redistricting maps at the Oregon Supreme Court to make sure the law is followed. Partisan gerrymandering is used as voter suppression in many Republican-led states, and I support Eric Holder's efforts to address those changes across the nation. However, here in Oregon in 2011, the legislature passed a bipartisan redistricting bill that fairly apportioned the residents of Oregon into equal districts. If redistricting falls to me as Secretary of State because the legislature is unable to complete the job, I am committed to centering my redistricting efforts on the foundational principle of equal representation and "one person one vote," especially for communities historically failed by our government and underrepresented in the legislative process.
Mark Hass: Voters are clamoring to find a way to break the increasing partisanship in politics. I agree with them. It's time for an outside commission to do this job — not legislators. While there are no egregious problems of "gerrymandering" in current political districts, there is an inconvenient truth: the number of competitive seats continues to decrease. Legislators from both parties "redraw" districts by trading "safe" seats where it's almost impossible for an incumbent to lose. This happens by mapping districts that are extremely blue and extremely red. It's time for a change to add competition to the list of factors to be considered when drawing political boundaries.
Jamie McLeod-Skinner: We see nightmarish examples of the abuse of redistricting authority around our country, and we must protect Oregon from that abuse. Oregon has the parameters spelled out in statute, and our process has been working. I am not convinced that the currently proposed alternatives will provide adequate representation for the full range of diversity in our state to ensure a better drawing of our districts. And, I have not been convinced that there are adequate protections in place to ensure that an independent commission would not be politically hijacked. If the Legislature walks out, yet again, and redistricting fell to me, I would establish an ad hoc advisory board, made up of some legislators, former secretaries of state, and communities of interest. We would start with the draft maps that had been drawn prior to the walk-out, then have the advisory board review the draft maps based on the statutory criteria.
What will you do on the job to ensure you're ready to step in for the governor, should that be necessary?
Shemia Fagan: On day one, Oregon's Secretary of State must be ready to step in for the governor if necessary. As a State Senator, I have worked with Governor Brown successfully to deliver major victories for Oregonians such as automatic voter registration, housing stability, and the Student Success Act. As Secretary of State, I will ask Governor Brown to allow me to attend her regular agency head meetings, as former Governor Barbara Roberts did when she was Secretary of State under Governor Vic Atiyeh.
Mark Hass: My breadth of experience — especially in finance and budget issues— is critically important for anyone serving as next in line to the governor. I will be actively involved with the legislature every day of session, meeting with lawmakers and stakeholders on key state policy. I have always stayed on top of all state government issues. It's in my nature. I regularly talk with our governor and presiding legislative offices — this won't change. I'll be ready.
Jamie McLeod-Skinner: While I have executive management and policy development experience in the government and nonprofit sectors, serving as governor is a unique role. In preparation, I will work to further develop subject matter expertise and key relationships with agency heads, state legislators, Tribal representatives, regional partners, and national partners. I will receive regular briefings on current issues and work with the governor to develop my background in specific components of the role. One area where I already have a unique set of experiences is in the somber role of having to deploy our National Guard troops. My experience in post-war settings gives me an understanding of the gravity of serving as Commander-in-Chief of Oregon's military forces if having to contemplate sending our loved ones and neighbors into harm's way.
The state’s campaign finance laws are fairly weak, and investigations tend to be passive. Would you seek to change the way the office enforces these laws? If so, how?
Shemia Fagan: Oregonians want big money out of our politics. As a senator, I have championed campaign finance reform and exposing dark money in campaigns. We must maximize the inherently grassroots impact of individual, small-dollar donors and minimize the outsized impact of huge donations from corporations and the rich. Our enforcement should also follow these principles, striking a balance between allowing powerful interests to absorb a "slap on the wrist" when they intentionally or recklessly break Oregon campaign finance laws, and not making penalties so steep for grassroots causes and candidates that everyday Oregonians are intimidated out of participating or running for office.
Mark Hass: Yes. With the likelihood that Oregon will adopt contribution limits next year after a constitutional vote in November, the Secretary of State will need teeth to enforce those new limits. I will seek funding for an investigative unit that will enforce those new limits and get tough on political operatives who are currently thumbing their noses at Oregon election laws.
Jamie McLeod-Skinner: Absolutely, as this is a key component to building public trust. Enforcement will be proactive, as credible evidence is provided, rather than requiring someone to file a complaint. This process must apply to anyone in elected office, regardless of political party. I would aggressively enforce Oregon's campaign finance laws. And, I would engage Oregonians in a discussion of what additional laws should be established to address these gaps, such as addressing the issues of "double dipping" into per diem and campaign contributions, and propose them to the Legislature to pass into law.
Is the State Land Board meeting its constitutional mandate for managing public lands to "the greatest benefit of the people of this state"? How would your approach differ?
Shemia Fagan: As one of only three members of the State Land Board, my role will be to serve as a good steward of the state's lands and natural resources. Acting with long-term sustainability in mind, we can also work to bring jobs, wage growth, and economic development to communities throughout the state by permitting projects that provide economic development in high-need areas while minimizing environmental impact. Furthermore, the idea that the Common School Fund (CSF) must rely on commercial logging for educational revenue is an outmoded budget strategy that runs counter to Oregon conservation values. I do not believe the Land Board must maximize Common School Fund revenues at the expense of protecting Oregon's environment, and we must be thoughtful about how we serve as good stewards to current and future generations' education systems and natural resources.
Mark Hass: I will lead a public process of setting priorities around this broad category of "greatest benefit." The problem the Land Board has now is there is no guiding light of principles. What are the values Oregonians want as the highest permanent value on assets such as public lands? Should they be preserved for ecological reasons? Should they be used as recreation? Economic Development? Research? Without these kinds of guidelines, the Land Board has no compass and moves from case to case with little context of the bigger picture. It's unclear if this is meeting the constitutional mandate, but the process can certainly be improved.
Jamie McLeod-Skinner: Good stewardship means not severely damaging the longevity of our public resources for short-term gain. Sustainable management involves both the direct benefit from our state lands as well as secondary benefits to our educators, students, and communities through the local economic development that we see from this big-picture approach. This includes recognizing the multiple benefits provided by our public lands. I have proposed developing forward-thinking and proactive policy for the Board to use to manage these public resources to ensure sustainable use of our natural resources for current and future generations.