Oregonians are split over whether policy disagreements alone are valid reasons to recall an elected official who has not been accused of misconduct, such as the petition drive currently underway against Mayor Ted Wheeler.
The campaign to recall Wheeler filed a prospective election petition on Thursday, July 1. It was short on specific policy complaints, but said, "Portland has endured years of crisis. When we needed a leader to solve problems, Ted Wheeler's inaction made our challenges worse."
The one misconduct charge, that Wheeler violated city campaign contribution limits by loaning his reeelction campaign $150,000, is debateble. The City Auditor's Office determined the loan was legal before Wheeler was reelected last year.
A recent survey by the Oregon Value and Beliefs Centers found that 43% of Oregonians, across the state, agree that policy disagreements are sufficient to recall someone from office, compared to a nearly identical 41% who say that is not enough, and 16% who are unsure.
Urban residents, like those living in Portland, are most likely to oppose recalls without misconduct accusations at 47%. Men are more likely than women to agree that policy disagreements alone are valid reasons to recall an elected official who has not been accused of misconduct (50% vs. 36%). Oregonians ages 55 and older were significantly more likely to oppose recall based on policy disagreements (49%) compared to those 54 and younger (31%).
A plurality of Black, Indigenous, and other Oregonians of color say that policy disagreements alone are sufficient grounds for a recall (48%), while white Oregonians are split equally between whether policy disagreements are (42%) or are not (42%) sufficient grounds.
Respondents were provided the open-ended opportunity to share their thoughts about recalling state and local officials in Oregon. According to the center, respondent who believe that policy differences alone are an insufficient reason for a recall tended to cite elections as the preferred method for change.
"I think the recall process should be used when an elected official has done or is believed to have done something that is illegal. Just because an official disagrees with you shouldn't be reason to recall them," said a white female Marion County resident between 65 and 74.
Those who say that policy differences alone are sufficient tended to cite concerns about politicians who have policies that may not be criminal, but are harmful in some way, as well as stressing that recalls are an appropriate way to make their voices heard in the political process.
"You should be able to recall any officials for any reason — if the reason has no validity, then the recall will be defeated," said a white male Washington County resident over the age of 75.
Organized effort targets Wheeler
Wheeler was reelected with 46% of the vote at the 2020 general election, defeating progressive urban planning advocate Sarah Iannarone, who received 41%. The remaining 13% went to write-in candidates. That plurality, though not a majority, was enough for Wheeler to win the election.
The petition was filed by chief petitioner Melissa Blount, a Portland Public Schools teacher librarian. She referred all questions to the Total Recall political action committee that is organizing the signature gathering.
The committee must collect at least 47,788 valid signatures of registered Portland voters within 90 days of the petition being filed. After they are submitted, city election officials have 10 days to certify them. If enough valid signatures are submitted, Wheeler will have five days to resign or submit a statement of justification explaining why he should remain in office. If he fights, the election must be held within 35 days.
The only question on the ballot will be whether he should be recalled. Both the reasons for the recall and the justification statement also will be printed on the ballot. Unlike California, where Gov. Newsom Gavin is being recalled, there will be no separate ballot of replacement candidates.
The committee director is Iannarone campaign lawyer Alan Kessler. It was filed with the Oregon Secretary of State's Office less than three weeks after Wheeler was reelected. It was filed by its treasurer, Seth Woolley, a campaign finance reform activist who finished fifth with just 4% of the vote in May 2020 primary race to replace former Commissioner Chloe Eudaly.
The committee has reported raising a little more than $41,000 in cash and in-kind contributions, launched a website and hiring campaign manager Audrey Caines, whose previous political experience was with Rising Tide PDX, an environmental justice group. She said the committee also has a field organizer, around 200 volunteers, and an executive committee that includes: Kessler; Shelly Hill, a local business owner; John Schroeder, a veteran and an early, major donor to the campaign; Carly Ng, a long-time volunteer and organizer; and Mark Nerys, the campaign's creative director. Caines had previously said the committee members did not want their names released.
About the OVBC
The Oregon Values and Beliefs Center is committed to the highest level of public opinion research. To obtain that, the non-profit is building the largest online research panel of Oregonians in history to ensure that all voices are represented in discussions of public policy in a valid and statistically reliable way.
Selected panelists earn points for their participation, which can be redeemed for cash or donated to a charity. To learn more, go to oregonvbc.org.
Prospective recall petition filed
Here is the petition statement filed on July 1:
"Portlanders have lost confidence that their government will be there in times of need. Our city is full of good hearted, decent residents. We should be an example to the world. Instead, with Wheeler as mayor, we have veered off course and our city's reputation has been tarnished.
"A recall is an expression of democracy designed to remove politicians who aren't serving effectively. Portlanders are ready to recover and we can't afford to waste the next three-and-a-half years. Portland deserves better than an uninspiring mayor re-elected with less than 47% of the vote. We deserve a mayor who was elected without illegally loaning his campaign $150,000 of his personal money. Our neighbors, families, and businesses deserve a mayor who prioritizes their safety and wellbeing.
"Ted Wheeler has repeatedly demonstrated to too many of us that he does not serve this city. Portlanders deserve a fresh start."
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