Candidates make their case for labor post
Two candidates for state labor commissioner offer similar views on apprenticeships and job training, but bring different public experiences and views on regulation.
Val Hoyle and Lou Ogden both embraced apprenticeships, which are promoted by the Bureau of Labor and Industries. Its commissioner, elected for a four-year term, is one of five statewide elected officials excluding judges and U.S. senators.
They spoke at a Washington County Public Affairs Forum luncheon April 2. Union County Commissioner Jack Howard, the third candidate for the nonpartisan office on the May 15 primary ballot, was absent. Unlike the others, Howard has not organized a statewide campaign committee.
The 10-year incumbent is Brad Avakian of Beaverton, who is not seeking re-election.
Hoyle, 54, was a Democratic state representative from Eugene from 2009 until 2016, when she lost a bid for her party's nomination as secretary of state. She was House majority leader from 2013 until she stepped down in mid-2015.
She began her current campaign when filing opened in September.
"We need to make sure we have programs in high school that are training kids for the future, not just apprenticeships for the jobs we have now," she said.
Ogden, 63, has been mayor of Tualatin since 1995, and was on the council two years beforehand. Until late February, when he switched races, he had been running for Washington County board chairman.
Ogden said he, too, believes the labor commissioner should play a bigger role in apprenticeships and job training — and as mayor of Tualatin has championed economic development in his community.
"I didn't get elected on ideology or a platform," he said.
"All that seemed to me to be important as mayor are two things: We need to create an environment where business can flourish and jobs are created, and we have to have the right pathways for people to have skills to be in those jobs."
As labor commissioner in 2011, Avakian — a former legislator — joined with his former colleagues to set aside money for schools to rekindle career and technical education programs. The grants are administered by the Oregon Department of Education.
Hoyle had $214,421 cash on hand as of April 6, Ogden $128,493.
Most of Hoyle's money has come from labor unions — the largest donor has been Local 48 Electricians PAC with $55,000 — but she also boasts of contributions from the political arms of Associated General Contractors, $25,000, and Oregon Council of the National Electrical Contractors Association, $7,500.
"I'm the only one who has the background with labor and business — and the only one who has their support," she said. "I have support across the political spectrum."
The Legislature made the office nonpartisan in 1995, after Republican Jack Roberts unseated four-term Democrat Mary Wendy Roberts — but it's generally been occupied by a Democrat.
Ogden, a registered Republican, said he would bring a balanced view to the office.
"We need to make sure that the administration and regulatory rules it writes actually solve a problem and focus on a minority of folks who don't follow the rules," he said. "We need to make sure the role of the bureau isn't perjorative or an additional hindrance on labor or industry."
Ogden's largest contributor was Freres Timber of Lyons at $25,000, followed by Action PAC, Barreto Manufacturing of La Grande, and Key Knife of Tualatin at $7,500 each.
Sweet Cakes case
Both responded cautiously, although expressing different views, when asked about how they would have approached an anti-discrimination dispute that eventually wound up in court.
When Sweet Cakes by Melissa declined to supply a cake for a same-sex couple in 2013, they filed a civil rights complaint with the labor bureau. An administrative law judge in 2015 sided with the couple, and against the Gresham business, which was penalized $135,000 — and Avakian upheld the decision. The Oregon Court of Appeals, in a Dec. 28 decision, upheld the bureau.
The bakery owners have paid the penalty, but they have asked the Oregon Supreme Court to review the decision on free-expression grounds. The high court has not yet acted.
Ogden acknowledged that the labor commissioner must enforce Oregon's civil rights law, which includes sexual orientation as a prohibited discrimination.
"But if that is the goal, I ask you: is putting the business out of business the way to solve the problem?" he asked. "If the goal is compliance, eradicating the business is not the solution."
Hoyle said that on the other side, Avakian was right in saying that it will take a change in state law for businesses to bar sales of some firearms and ammunition to those under 21, instead of 18. (Such a lawsuit has been filed against a business, but it does not involve the bureau.)
She did not comment directly on the Gresham case.
"But I will be unapologetic in standing up and being a voice for people who do not have one in protecting them from discrimination," she said.
Link to Washington County Public Affairs Forum event video of April 2: