Independent Party Candidate Drops Bid For Oregon Governor, Backs Brown

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB) and Lauren Dake (OPB)
Portland, Ore. Oct. 30, 2018 7:13 p.m.

Patrick Starnes, the Independent Party of Oregon's candidate for governor, dropped an interesting new campaign message a week from election day: Vote for Kate Brown.


RELATED: Live Oregon and Washington 2018 midterm election results.

In a surprise move, Starnes announced Tuesday he's suspending his campaign and asking supporters to instead back Brown's re-election.

The decision came down to the central campaign plank of Starnes' long-shot bid for governor: changing Oregon's campaign finance laws. The candidate said he's grown convinced that Brown is committed to pushing a state constitutional amendment that would pave the way for tight limits on campaign donations. Oregon currently has no such limits.

"Campaign finance reform victory in Oregon is bigger than the governor or myself," Starnes said. "This election has proven it's more urgent than ever before ... We have multi-million donations from one person and it's undemocratic."

Related: The Knight Stuff: What Phil Knight's Enormous Donations Mean In Oregon Governor's Race

Starnes, a cabinetmaker from Brownsville, called the governor's staff over the weekend and met with the Democratic nominee this morning to discuss the move.

Starnes' decision was influenced by Republican candidate Knute Buehler's decision to accept $2.5 million from Nike co-founder Phil Knight.

Brown, who has supported unsuccessful measures in the past to put strict limits on campaigns, said if she is re-elected she will champion the cause.

"We're going to get this done," Brown said. "No question in my mind. This campaign, this election cycle, will be the impetus to bringing Oregon campaign finance reform."

Oregon is one of only a handful of states that doesn't have any limits on campaign donations.

In the past, Brown has pushed to see a cap of $2,600 for individual donors and $5,000 for political action committees.

Voters would need to amend the state's constitution to move forward with changing the campaign contribution rules. Oregon voters have been reticent to amend the free-speech clause of the constitution. The governor, a lawyer, said she thinks there is a route to amend the provision in the constitution dealing with elections.

The move to withdraw apparently came as a surprise to Starnes' own party. According to The Oregonian/OregonLive, he hadn't informed Independent Party co-chair Rob Harris about the move.

Starnes' announcement also comes, presumably, after some of his supporters have already voted. According to the secretary of state's office, more than one-fifth of ballots have been returned. Polls suggested Starnes might attract 4 percent of the vote.

Starnes said he knows his decision won't make everyone happy, especially when the Independent Party of Oregon has fought for major party status.

Related: In Oregon's Gubernatorial Race, Winning Isn't The Point For Independent Candidate

"The survival of the Independent Party of Oregon isn't on my shoulders," Starnes said. "It's on the party leadership and for them to keep major party status, they need to register 5 percent of the voters, and I'm not sure they have hauled that water."

Knight's donation to Buehler is a big reason why this gubernatorial race is the most expensive in state history. But Brown has also received big checks from unions and advocacy groups.


"Those are small donations lumped together from working-class people," Starnes said. "That's different from one person trying to buy a governor."

Monica Wroblewski, with the Buehler campaign, dismissed the news, saying, "One tax-and-spend liberal endorsing another tax-and-spend liberal should come as no surprise to anyone."

Starnes said the next step after restricting campaign contributions is tackling the dark money in campaigns.

The governor nodded her head in agreement.

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