[Phew! Putting these endorsements together takes LOTS of hard work—and that's on top of our regular excellent reporting. Show your appreciation for the Mercury with a small contribution, please, and thank you!—eds]
Governor: Tina Kotek
While choosing who we elect for governor is always important, can we be so bold as to suggest this race is particularly critical? Thanks to an influx of millions of dollars from national Republican PACs (and Oregon’s own Phil Knight—thanks a pantload for nothing), as well as a spoiler “independent” candidate, there’s an unnerving chance we may have a Republican governor when 2023 rolls around. With the many serious crises that Oregon is facing—housing, economic, and climate… not to mention abortion rights—that’s a risk we simply can’t afford to take.
It’s time to get serious about getting Tina Kotek elected governor.
Despite what she might say in debates, based on her previous statements and proposals, Republican Christine Drazan would absolutely restrict abortion rights in the state. She would join GOP governors from other states and wreak havoc with the progressive ideals Oregonians hold dear, or worse, torpedo them entirely. Meanwhile, it’s hard to see “independent” candidate Betsy Johnson as anything more than a loud-mouth spoiler spouting thoughtless Trumpian values that come across as more "Republican" than the current Republican candidate.
Those two candidates are non-starters. But there are very solid reasons to support Kotek, besides the fact she isn’t Johnson or Drazan (neither of whom, we should mention, was brave enough to attend our endorsement interview.)
Unlike her opponents, Kotek has a smart plan—and an actual track record—to combat homelessness. A critical aspect of keeping people off the street is more low-income housing, and during her time in the legislature Kotek pushed for a bill that would finally allow duplexes and triplexes in areas previously zoned for single-family homes, helped pass the nation’s first rent control law, and created legislation designed to help Metro fund housing services that really work—including Project Turnkey, which converts motels into transitional housing. Unlike her opponents, Kotek takes her cues from the people directly involved or affected by the housing crisis—and that includes listening to actual experts instead of the screeches of the wealthy who demonize anyone and anything they want to see disappear.
Although we disagree that electing a governor with similar views as Governor Kate Brown is a bad thing, we trust Kotek when she points to the clear differences between herself and Brown, specifically when it comes to addressing critical problems with state agencies that the COVID-19 pandemic thrust into the spotlight. Kotek said she will make sure agency heads are held accountable for errors and will personally interfere if necessary.
Kotek is also not afraid to take on city and county officials who aren’t doing enough to create more housing, and pointed out in our endorsement interview that Portland’s leadership in particular is not doing enough to “build, finance, and permit housing”—a problem she calls her “day one priority.”
Pair this with even more smart, progressive ideas on creating more clean energy, growing Oregon’s workforce, supporting mental health and addiction programs, pushing for more limitations on campaign contributions, and—and once again, for those in the back—strengthening Oregon’s abortion laws, Tina Kotek is the overwhelmingly clear choice to be our next governor.
Labor Commissioner: Christina Stephenson
The race for who will lead the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industry (BOLI) pits employment law attorney Christina Stephenson against a former Republican state representative Cheri Helt. Only one of the two (guess which one!) agreed to meet with the Mercury for our endorsement interviews. But that’s not the only reason why we support Stephenson in this nonpartisan position.
Stephenson is both a labor attorney and a business owner of her law firm—two unique positions that give her a critical perspective on the needs of workers (and their bosses) as Oregon reemerges from the economic chaos brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Stephenson is dedicated to strengthening the state’s workforce training program, which has become even more crucial on the heels of the pandemic.
Stephenson has the hard-won support of Oregon’s top labor unions, while Helt has the backing of business lobbyists and Timber Unity, the far-right fringe group (with ties to the January 6 Capitol riots) backed by the logging industry.
Helt’s stance on civil rights in the workforce is also a bit shaky. In a May interview, Helt called the 2015 BOLI decision to penalize a Gresham cake show owner who refused to serve a same-sex couple “one the most embarrassing moments from BOLI office.” The $135,000 penalty was found to be too high by the Oregon appeals court, although the court agreed that the discrimination was illegal. It will be on the next labor commissioner to review the case and propose a new penalty. Helt is not the person who should be making that call.
The job of BOLI commissioner is about fairness and civil rights in the workplace, and it requires someone with experience fighting for both. As labor organizing gains momentum across Oregon, we also need a commissioner who listens to workers and sees value in unions. We believe Stephenson is the right BOLI leader for the moment.
Measure 111: Yes
In case you haven’t noticed, healthcare costs are freaking exorbitant. In fact they’ve more than doubled nationally since 2005, and 66 percent of bankruptcies across America are due to wildly expensive medical bills which can often push regular, everyday people into homelessness. And if homelessness is a topic you care and/or complain about, or if you suspect you’re just one medical bill away from financial ruin, then you should seriously consider voting yes for Measure 111. This measure would amend the state constitution to ensure that affordable healthcare is a fundamental right for all Oregonians, and require that healthcare spending be on equal footing with other services supplied by the state, such as education and public safety. Would the passage of Measure 111 mean Oregon suddenly becomes a mini-Canada with free healthcare raining from the sky? No. But its passage opens the door for legislators to make rules that may bring us closer to that utopia—but that can’t happen unless we all agree affordable healthcare is a fundamental right. In short, we have to take this step in order to take future steps, which means voting in favor of Measure 111 is a vote for the health and welfare of all Oregonians.
Measure 112: Yes
Depending on how well you know Oregon’s history, you may not be surprised to learn that our state constitution allows the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishment. While the US Constitution’s 13th Amendment outlawed slavery in 1865, it includes a loophole for slavery “as a punishment for a crime.” Oregon was quick to include this exception in its own constitution.
Measure 112 would amend the Oregon Constitution to ax this racist phrasing. However, much like the 13th Amendment, Measure 112 comes with its own loophole: The amendment would allow prison and parole agencies to continue forcing convicted Oregonians to work for incredibly low wages. In short, the amendment does little more than editing out some unsavory language from our state’s constitution.
That doesn’t keep us from endorsing the measure. Oregon joins four other states in asking voters to repeal this language in their state constitution this year, as part of a larger movement to eventually cut this phrasing from the US Constitution. While we’re eager to see changes to our state’s prison labor laws, we also realize that this measure isn’t where that work will be done. Vote yes on Measure 112.
Measure 113: Yes
For the past three consecutive years, Oregon Senate Republicans have walked out of the state capitol to protest Democratic bills or policies, effectively shutting down all legislative work. In 2019 and 2020, the walkouts were to avoid voting on progressive bills Republicans knew would pass despite their votes in opposition, while 2021’s walkout was simply in protest of Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID-19 restrictions. Walkouts are one of the rare tools minority parties can use to undermine the majority party’s work in the legislature.
Measure 113 would make that tool slightly more difficult to rely on. If passed, this ballot measure would amend the Oregon Constitution to disqualify state legislators from re-election at the end of their term if they miss ten legislative floor sessions without permission. We believe it’s a fair penalty.
It’s important to consider the flip-side of this issue: Imagine if, under a GOP-majority Oregon Legislature, Democratic lawmakers chose to walk out to avoid passing a harmful conservative bill. If this walkout spanned over ten floor sessions, Democrats could risk shrinking to an even smaller minority in the next election cycle.
But, despite being a bunch of nutty liberals, we at the Mercury still value compromise over tantrums. Measure 113 allows lawmakers to still use walkouts as a threat to legislative progress while still incentivizing collaboration across the aisle. We support Measure 113 as a technique to keep lawmakers doing the job we pay them to do, while still allowing them to wild out every so often. For accountability and maturity in the state legislature, vote for Measure 113.
Measure 114: Yes
Called the Reduction of Gun Violence Act by its authors, Measure 114 seeks to promote public safety by reducing the size of gun magazines, adding safety training and a permit application to the firearm purchase process, and closing a loophole that allows those waiting on a background check to go ahead and purchase a gun if their check takes longer than three days.
Oregon law currently only requires a permit and training for a concealed handgun license (CHL). This measure would expand that process to everyone who purchases a gun. Seems worth noting that the Oregon State Sheriffs Association offers a safety course for free online—you can take it as many times as you want, but the certificate of completion costs $55.
Measure 114 isn't set up to require permits from current owners, but all future purchases would be subject to the new rules.
The thing that might really impact gun owners' day-to-day life is the measure's ban on future production and sale of "large capacity magazines," meaning magazines that hold more than ten rounds. Handgun magazines with 20 to 30 rounds are fairly standard—although not in the nine states that have passed laws similar to Measure 114—so the shortened magazines will involve more clip changes for hobbyists. That's the whole point though, that little inconvenience could significantly cut down the danger one shooter can represent. It’s become increasingly common in Portland to find dozens of casings left behind at the scene of a shooting, suggesting that most shooters rely heavily on guns with high-capacity magazines.
Gun owners would not be forced to relinquish large magazines they already own under Measure 114, they just would no longer be able to purchase them in Oregon.
The measure also allows gun owners to still use larger magazines at shooting ranges, competitions, and when hunting on private land. And, of course, the new law wouldn’t apply to government agencies, including military or police forces.
Measure 114 represents common sense changes to gun ownership in Oregon, that would limit spur-of-the-moment gun and large magazine purchases and eliminate dangerous policy loopholes. Vote yes on Measure 114.
The Mercury Election Strike Force is News Editor Alex Zielinski, News Reporter Isabella Garcia, Arts & Culture Editor Suzette Smith, and Editor-in-Chief Wm. Steven Humphrey. Political advertisements on the Mercury's website have no influence over our endorsement decisions. BTW, if you find our endorsements helpful, please consider appreciating our hard work with a small $$ tip!