In the May 17 primary, Oregon’s labor movement wasn’t always in agreement about who and what to support, but overall, it was a good night for organized labor. Among the highlights were labor commissioner Brad Avakian’s win in the Democratic primary for secretary of state, and first-time wins by at least six union member candidates who trained in the Oregon Labor Candidates School, including Sheri Malstrom, who are all but certain to be in the Oregon House come January.
PRESIDENT: Oregon proved to be a Bernie Sanders state, at least among Democrats: The Vermont senator drew 56 percent to Hillary Clinton’s 44 percent. Clinton had the endorsement of most national unions, but in Oregon most local labor organizations sat out the Democratic primary. A notable exception was the labor-supported Oregon Working Families Party, which went all in for Sanders, devoting staff time and even encouraging its registered voters to temporarily switch their party affiliation to Democrat to help him win. While Clinton made no campaign appearances in Oregon except for a private $2,400-a-plate fundraiser in August, Sanders drew overflow crowds at rallies in Salem, Eugene, and Portland, where 29,000 turned out in August to hear his message of universal health care, tuition-free public higher education, a living wage for all workers, and serious investment in clean energy. Donald Trump, meanwhile, cleaned up in Oregon with support from 67 percent of Republicans, but by the time votes were counted, he was the only Republican candidate still standing. Trump has frequently criticized NAFTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership, but the billionaire also has frequently taken positions at odds with organized labor, both politically and as an employer. Union members who are fans of the one-time host of The Apprentice will want to look closer at that record in the months leading up to the November election.
CONGRESS: Garnering 73 percent of the vote, four-term incumbent Democrat Kurt Schrader easily brushed off a primary challenge from former state rep Dave McTeague. Labor unions have been unhappy with Schrader for several recent votes in Congress, including support for “fast track” legislation that could speed passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a NAFTA-style trade deal. In the November general election, Schrader will face off against Republican attorney Colm Willis, a former political director for Oregon Right to Life. All other incumbents won by even larger margins against little-known primary challengers: Senate Democrat Ron Wyden, and Democrats Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, and Peter DeFazio, and Republican Greg Walden.
GOVERNOR: With 84 percent support from Democrats, incumbent governor Kate Brown easily won primary challenges against lesser-known challengers. She’ll face Salem Republican Bud Pierce, a cancer doctor, in November.
SECRETARY OF STATE: Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian won the Democratic primary, with 39 percent to 24 percent for former state rep Val Hoyle and 26 percent for state senator Richard Devlin. All three Democrats had support from some quarters in labor, but Avakian had broader labor support than the others. And more than the others, he also took sides on some issues important to labor, including hostility to NAFTA-style trade deals and support for a pending ballot measure to raise taxes on big corporations. Avakian will face Republican Dennis Richardson in November. Richardson, who served six terms in the Oregon House, ran for Oregon governor in 2014 and got 44 percent of the vote to John Kitzhaber’s 50 percent.
TREASURER: State rep Tobias Reed, unopposed in the Democratic primary, will face Republican Jeff Gudman in the fall.
ATTORNEY GENERAL: Incumbent Democrat Ellen Rosenblum, unopposed in the Democratic primary, will run against veterans’ rights attorney Daniel Zene Crowe, who was unopposed in the Republican primary.
Labor’s political organization can really make a difference in state legislative races, which are often decided on the basis of a few hundred votes. This year saw a bumper crop of actual union members running for legislative office, most of them trained and supported by the union-funded Oregon Labor Candidates School.
- Roberta Phillip-Robbins, a member of AFSCME Local 88, had to quit her job as a youth and gang violence prevention specialist at Multnomah County in order to run for House District 43, because her program is federally funded and federal rules prohibit campaigning. Organized labor made her campaign a priority; she got ample support from AFSCME, SEIU, OEA, UFCW, and the Oregon AFL-CIO, among others. In a close race against fellow Democrat Tawna Sanchez, Phillip-Robbins was ahead on election night, but lost by 74 votes when all votes were counted. Sanchez will succeed labor stalwart (and AFTRA member) Lew Frederick, who’s running for state senate. [NOTE: An earlier version of this story reported that Phillip-Robbins appeared to win but that was superseded by later results.]
- Ray Lister, an electrician and union rep for IBEW Local 48, won with 77 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary for House District 26 (Wilsonville). In November he’ll face Republican real estate lawyer Richard Vial for the seat formerly held by Republican John Davis.
- Teresa Alonso Leon, an SEIU member, ran unopposed for House District 22, but she’ll have to beat Republican former Marion County commissioner Patty Milne in order to succeed Democrat Betty Komp.
- Sheri Malstrom, a member of Oregon Nurses Association, won with 88 percent in Democratic primary for House District 27 (Beaverton). No Republican filed for the office, so she’ll be headed to Salem in January, succeeding Tobias Read, who’s running for state treasurer.
- Mark Reynolds, a member of Oregon Education Association, won with 75 percent in the Democratic primary for House District 52 (Hood River). He’ll go on to challenge Republican incumbent Mark Johnson, one of the most anti-labor members of the Oregon Legislature, in November.
- Tom Kane a member of Portland Association of Teachers, was unopposed in the Democratic primary, and will challenge incumbent Republican Vic Gilliam for House District 18 (Silverton).
Incumbent Metro Councilors Sam Chase and Bob Stacey won re-election. Both were endorsed by Northwest Oregon Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
State rep and labor ally Jessica Vega Pederson ran unopposed to succeed Judy Shiprack for County Commission, District 3. And Amanda Schroeder, Veterans Administration employee and AFGE union leader, had a surprisingly robust second place finish against Gresham City Commissioner Lori Stegmann in the race to replace term-limited Diane McKeel on District 4. Stegmann, a registered Republican and former leader of the Gresham Chamber of Commerce got 46 percent after raising $154,000 and garnering the endorsement of County Chair Deb Kafoury. Schroeder, a first-time candidate, got 39 percent after raising just $32,000 and campaigning after work and on weekends. The two will face each other in a November runoff.
Incumbent Position 3 commissioner Martha Schrader, was endorsed by NOLC and eight other labor organizations, and won outright with 53 percent. The Labor Council didn’t make endorsements in other county races, other than to urge voters NOT to support incumbent chair John Ludlow or Position 4 commissioner Tootie Smith, two noted union foes. But voters haven’t seen the last of them. Ludlow placed second, and will face off against county commissioner Jim Bernard in a November runoff. And Smith will face retired probation officer Ken Humberston in a runoff.
Dick Schouten, incumbent commissioner, ran unopposed and had NOLC’s endorsement.
Incumbent Position 1 Commissioner Margaret Magruder, endorsed by NOLC, placed first but faces a runoff against Wayne Mayo. Position 3 Commissioner Tony Hyde, a 20-year incumbent, had NOLC’s endorsement, but lost to Alex Tardif, an opponent of fossil fuels projects, by 51-48 percent.
HOOD RIVER COUNTY
Voters approved Measure 14-55 by 69 percent, prohibiting bottled water production and transport in the county. Swiss multinational Nestlé has been trying for seven years to get approval to draw water from a state-owned spring near Cascade Locks in the Columbia Gorge. Oregon AFSCME opposed the giveaway of public water, and contributed $1,000 to the ballot measure campaign.
CITY OF PORTLAND
State treasurer Ted Wheeler won the mayor’s race outright with 57 percent of the vote against Jules Bailey and 13 other candidates. The Northwest Oregon Labor Council, AFSCME, and the Fire Fighters didn’t take sides between front-runners Wheeler and Bailey, but Wheeler was backed by a number of building trades unions and the building trades council, and Bailey was backed by UFCW Local 555, Portland Association of Teachers, and the Portland Police Association. For City Council, labor-endorsed incumbent Amanda Fritz won outright with 70 percent, while labor-endorsed incumbent Steve Novick got the most votes in the primary — 43 percent — but will face small business owner Chloe Eudaly in a November runoff. [NOTE: An earlier version of this story reported Novick would face architect Stuart Emmons, but late-counted votes put Eudaly in second place.] Meanwhile, voters approved Measure 26-173, a four-year 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax, by 52 percent; the measure, endorsed by the Northwest Oregon Labor Council and the Fire Fighters will raise $16 million a year for street maintenance and safety improvements.
CITY OF SALEM
Sally Cook — a member of SEIU Local 503 and a graduate of the Oregon Labor Candidates School — beat incumbent Warren Bednarz for a seat on Salem City Council in southwest Salem’s Ward 7.
CITY OF SPRINGFIELD
Leonard Stoehr — a union representative at Teamsters Local 206 — won with 55 percent of the vote against incumbent Dave Ralston for the Ward 4 seat on Springfield City Council.
MORE: See more election night photos here.