State Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Portland, is entering the Democratic primary for Oregon secretary of state, after her friend and former House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson dropped out of the race.
Fagan joins other high-profile Democrats who hope to take back the only statewide position currently held by a Republican. Dennis Richardson served in the position until he died of brain cancer in 2019. His replacement, Bev Clarno, is not running for the spot.
In the May 19 Democratic primary, Fagan will face her colleague state Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton as well as former congressional candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner and former Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services Director Cameron Smith.
On the Republican side, state Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, is vying for the position.
Fagan, 38, said in a statement that she vows to “bring her authenticity, no-nonsense leadership, and fighting spirit to restore Oregonians’ faith in our democracy.”
Fagan is considered one of the more progressive members of the state Senate. On the first day of the 2019 session, the newly elected Fagan made it clear she was going to try and push her caucus to the left by casting a practically unheard of “no” vote against reelecting the moderate state Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, to his ninth term.
To secure a spot in the Senate, Fagan unseated longtime Democratic lawmaker Rod Monroe in the 2018 primary by promising to champion progressive housing laws in the Oregon Legislature. On the campaign trail, Fagan shared stories of her childhood, including visiting her mother who was homeless in East Portland and struggling with addiction issues.
Once elected, she chaired the first-ever Senate Housing Committee at a time when the state Legislature approved first-in-the-nation statewide rent control.
Fagan also sponsored a measure to change Oregon’s legal voting age from 18 to 16.
She’s currently serving a four-year term in the state Senate and does not need to give up the seat to run for Secretary of State.
Fagan said she grew up in a poor household primarily with her father and brothers in Dufur and The Dalles. She is a civil rights attorney, who also served in the statehouse in 2013 where she pushed for a record sum of money to secure sidewalks and crosswalks in East Portland in the wake of a death of a 5-year-old girl.
She has become one of the more vocal critics of the Republican walkout currently underway in Salem. She has called it a threat to “Oregonians’ faith that their votes matter.”
Republicans have left the state Legislature in the midst of the 2020 session in an effort to force Democrats to put a plan to fight climate change by capping emissions and charging polluters on the ballot in front of voters. Democrats have started to counter that there has already been an election - one in which they campaigned on addressing climate change and won a supermajority in both legislative chambers.
Before dropping out, Williamson was also positioning herself as the progressive choice. Williamson quit as Willamette Week prepared to publish a story on her campaign expenditures while she served in the state Legislature.
Fagan has already nabbed one influential endorsement. The state’s first-ever female governor, former Gov. Barbara Roberts, who also once served as Secretary of State is backing Fagan.
Roberts called Fagan a “once-in-a-generation leader at a time when we face once-in-a-lifetime threats to the integrity of our democracy,” adding that Fagan has “courage, grit, and conviction to meet those threats head on …”
Fagan said she plans to officially launch her campaign once the Legislature adjourns after March 8.