Jeanne Atkins is the chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon. A former secretary of state, state director for Sen. Jeff Merkley, and member of the state House, she has been a candidate, a campaign manager, and run the state office that oversees campaigns.
With the announcement by Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, that he is running for governor, Atkins has led attacks to put a dent in Buehler’s budding effort. She has been a vocal political surrogate for Gov. Kate Brown, attacking Buehler’s ethics and record. Atkins is also working to increase Democratic majorities in the state Legislature — with an eye toward the House seat Buehler will vacate.
Atkins spoke with The Bulletin by phone from her home in Cedar Hills, Washington County.
(The Bulletin plans a Q&A with Oregon Republican Party chairman Bill Currier in the near future).
Q: Who do you expect will face Gov. Kate Brown in the general election of 2018?
A: We don’t know any more than you do who may be intending to file. As good party activists we are looking at everyone who is a potential candidate.
Q: Why has so much attention been paid to Rep. Buehler’s candidacy?
A: I think we have to be prepared for anything to happen. Rep. Buehler has talked for a long time about running, so it was an obvious task to prepare for him to run. So it will be with anyone else. We are not trying to outguess the Republicans on who they are going to choose.
Q: Democrats charged Buehler with ethics violations last year. The state Ethics Commission issued a letter of education on his role with St. Charles Medical Center. But it found he had not violated the law when it came to payments from medical device manufacturers who did business with his company. Now the party is coming out with statements that Buehler was “caught” in unethical behavior. Why keep hammering on this subject?
A: The ethics commission looked at what he reported and what was not reported. It decided there was a problem with St. Charles. It also noted that Stryker Corporation had payments to his business that he did not report.
Q: But it also said they were not violations.
A: That is something we sought to fix through legislation. A bill was introduced to close the “Buehler Loophole” on contributions from companies that do business with the state to businesses owned by elected officials.
Q: The bill never even received a committee hearing. If this was a problem, why didn’t Democratic leadership move the bill forward?
A: You’ll have to ask those in the legislature. I know it was well into the session by the time the bill was drafted and introduced. It is difficult to move things through the process. I expect it will be reintroduced in February.
Q: So why bring it up now?
A: Given that he is now a candidate for the highest office in the state, it is incumbent on him to reveal his business interests with the state. It’s time to get those out. It would be much better for Rep. Buehler to do that himself.
Q: Kate Brown’s fundraising letter tries to tie Buehler to President Trump. Buehler is running as a “pro-choice, pro-gender equality” Republican who has openly criticized Trump. The two versions don’t connect.
A: Although he has put himself forward and in some instances made an effort to take more moderate positions than the hard right-wing version of the Republican Party, his voting record during this past session was not moderate. Voters can compare his record with Kate Brown’s record. There are many things throughout Representative Buehler’s record that will make him vulnerable if he gets to the general election.
Q: What about Secretary of State Dennis Richardson? He ran for governor and lost in 2014. But his victory last November puts him on everybody’s list of possible candidates for governor in 2018.
A: We have not heard specific things from the Richardson camp. We put forward some concerns about his actions as secretary of state. That is so we can be ready whether or not he runs next year.
Q: Is any prominent Democrat going to run against Gov. Brown?
A: I am not aware of any serious primary challenger at this point.
Q: Democrats are one seat short of a supermajority in the state House and state Senate. How important is the 2018 election in Bend with Knute Buehler’s House seat now open?
A: That seat was a priority in 2016 and we came close. It will be a priority in 2018. It will be a priority until it is in a Democrat’s hands. We have a strong chance with the voter registration edge. Democrats in Bend are really fired up. We are very actively organizing in Deschutes County.
Q: Congressman Greg Walden is the only Republican in the Oregon delegation to Washington. After he guided the attempts to repeal Obamacare through the House, he was heavily criticized. But he wins his district with more than 60 percent of the vote every time. Can you defeat Walden in 2018?
A: We may not turn the district, but we will make it closer. I wouldn’t predict. He has made a great commitment in the past to work for Republicans around the country. Now we have his attention here. He knows there is unhappiness. He is hearing that from Republicans.
— Reporter: 541-525-5280, firstname.lastname@example.org