SALEM — Some prominent Oregon Republicans say their party’s effort to recall Gov. Kate Brown isn’t a good use of limited energy, time and money.
“I am only speaking for myself, but I have misgivings about the petition drive,” said Deschutes County Republican chair Paul deWitt. “Kate Brown deserves to be recalled, but we also need to elect Republicans in 2020.”
DeWitt said the county party would circulate petitions for the recall, launched July 15 by Oregon Republican Party chair Bill Currier. “The petition will be on our table at the county fair,” deWitt said. “We’ll do our part.”
But deWitt is among a mostly quiet group of critics within the party who say the recall will undercut efforts to win seats in the Legislature and mount a strong run for three statewide offices on the ballot in 2020.
Most of the critics won’t speak on the record out of concern of seeming disloyal to an official state party effort. But some think the stakes are too high to remain quiet.
“We need a strategy, and a recall isn’t it,” said Julie Parrish, a former Republican state representative from West Linn and longtime political consultant.
Currier said July 15 the recall was needed because Brown’s policies went against ballot initiatives passed by voters. He also said she overstepped her constitutional authority by saying she could use an executive order to institute policy the Legislature had failed to approve.
“The people of Oregon deserve and expect a governor that honors the will of the voters and works for the good of all citizens,” Currier said.
Recall proponents have until Oct. 14 to submit just over 280,000 valid signatures to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office in order to force a recall election late this year.
Buoyed by a 2018 election that returned Brown to office and enlarged their majorities in the Legislature, Democrats passed statewide rent control, taxes to support education and health care and driver’s licenses for unauthorized immigrants.
Bills on a carbon cap, guns and vaccines were scrapped as the price Brown and Democrats were willing to pay to end two Senate Republican walkouts that blocked hundreds of other bills.
Brown has declined comment on the recall effort. Democratic supporters say voters endorsed her agenda by returning her to the governorship in November.
“First, Republicans held the legislative process hostage; now they want to undo the entire election,” said Thomas Wheatley, a longtime Brown political adviser.
Republicans say large rallies at the Capitol this year against the carbon cap, gun control and vaccination bills show a groundswell of disenchantment with Brown’s policy positions.
Parrish agrees but says the recall is the wrong way for the GOP to channel that energy.
“If you ask people in the grassroots to do something, there should be a solid path to success,” Parrish said. “I don’t see it. Unless they are going to spend a boatload of money, anger in the grassroots isn’t going to get you there. You just end up disappointing people.”
Rather than recall Brown, GOP critics say the party should focus on electing Republicans to the Legislature, flipping swing districts won by Democrats last year.
A second priority is to try to elect Republicans as secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general — all on the 2020 ballot.
Critics say there are too many ways for the recall effort to turn into a deflating failure.
The GOP recall already finds itself competing with a different Brown recall started by Michael Cross, a political activist from Salem.
“It’s confusing,” deWitt said. “People will be saying, ‘I already signed a recall petition.’”
If Republicans can’t reach the signature requirement in time, the GOP will look weak. Forcing a recall election and then having voters retain Brown in office would also look bad.
Even if the Republican recall gets what it wants — a vote to remove Brown — the immediate result would be to replace her with Treasurer Tobias Read, another Democrat. Read would hold the office until a special election in November 2020 to fill the final two years of Brown’s term.
“We do all of this and Read is governor — is that so much better?” deWitt said. “From what I see, he supports the same issues as Brown.”
Read is in position to become governor because of the constitutional domino effect of the Feb. 26 death of Secretary of State Dennis Richardson.
Elected in 2016, Richardson was Oregon’s only statewide Republican officeholder. Under the state constitution, when the governor is replaced outside of an election, the secretary of state is first in line to take over the job. That’s how Brown, then secretary of state, became governor after the February 2015 resignation of Gov. John Kitzhaber.
If Richardson had lived and if Brown were recalled, Richardson would have become governor. The GOP could have pulled off a constitutionally sanctioned coup.
Upon Richardson’s death, Brown was required under state statute to name a Republican as his successor. Brown appointed former House Speaker Bev Clarno of Redmond on March 31.
But as an appointee, Clarno is ineligible to replace the governor. The constitution puts the treasurer next in line.
For Republicans, the most optimistic scenario would be a recall of Brown late this year, Read becoming governor, and then a special election in November 2020 to finish the last two years of Brown’s term.
Read would be governor through the 2020 session of the Legislature, able to sign bills into law. He would have a year to consolidate his position and could run as an incumbent in 2020.
If Read ran and won in 2020, he could then run for a full four-year term in 2022. Brown cannot run in 2022 because of term limits.
The GOP has not won a governor’s election in Oregon since 1982. Critics worry the recall may end up hobbling Republican chances instead of helping.
“The governor’s office would be open, with no incumbent, in 2022,” deWitt said. “Would we have a better chance without an incumbent by just waiting two years?”
— Reporter: 541-640-2750, firstname.lastname@example.org