Sec-State Fagan and Oregon’s political rot

By William MacKenzie
Oregon writer

Political parties “…are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government…” said George Washington.

Washington may have preferred that the United States go forward with no parties, but since we’ve got them, the next best thing is to prevent one-party rule that strangles wise and fearless public policy and emboldens the perpetual winners.

That’s where Oregon has failed over a long time and all at once.

The Shemia Fagan scandal is just the latest illustration of rot in the body politic.

Secretary of State Fagan wouldn’t have signed up for a $10,000 a month consulting contract with Aaron Mitchell and Rosa Cazarest, owners of the La Mota chain of cannabis dispensaries, if she hadn’t thought she could get away with it. The cannabis entrepreneurs are, after all, high-profile Democratic donors.

Before the Fagan scandal erupted, the Democratic recipients of La Mota funds happily accepted them. Willamette Week’s Sophie Peel did some spade work, revealing La Mota contributions to the following Democrats:

Gov. Tina Kotek – $68,365

Secretary of State Shemia Fagan – $45,000

Senate President Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego) – $12,500

Senate Democratic Leadership Fund – $10,000

State Treasurer Tobias Read – $1,800

Rep. Andrea Valderrama (D-Portland) – $500

Labor Commissioner Christina Stephenson – $7,500

Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson – $1,000

Rep. Dacia Grayber (D-Tigard) – $1,000

Rep. Hoa Nguyen (D-Portland) – $500

Rep. Annessa Hartman (D-Gladstone) – $500

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt – $2,000

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer – $3,500

Prior to the Fagan scandal, none of the Democrats who were recipients of La Mota money were apparently bothered by the fact the company was failing to pay its bills and taxes, according to an investigation by Willamette Week. Only after the Fagan scandal erupted did Democrats decide campaign contributions from La Mota were dirty money and scrambled to show their purity by pledging to donate those contributions to other worthy charitable causes.

Oregon’s Democratic Party also wouldn’t be so cavalier about all the campaign contributions it took from disgraced executives at FTX, the now bankrupt crypto company if they didn’t think they could get off scot free.

In their unbridled pursuit of power, Tina Kotek and the Democratic Party of Oregon chose to keep company with Nishad Singh, the 27-year-old wunderkind director of engineering at FTX. They welcomed his $500,000 contribution to the party’s campaign coffers in 2022.

But the wheels of justice have turned since Singh made the contribution. On Feb. 28, 2023, he pleaded guilty to six criminal counts, including conspiring to commit securities and commodities fraud, during a hearing in federal court in Manhattan.

He also pleaded guilty to defrauding the U.S. in a campaign-finance scheme in which he made illegal donations to political-action committees and candidates using funds from disgraced cyypto manager Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto hedge fund Alameda Research.

John Ray III, the new boss of the bankrupt crypto exchange FTX, wants the $500,000 back, but the Democratic Party of Oregon has so far refused.

Fagan’s behavior is also reminiscent of the sudden downfall of Jennifer Williamson, a former House majority leader and a leading contender to be Oregon’s next secretary of state in 2020. Williamson suddenly dropped out of the race, attributing her action to a forthcoming story in Willamette Week about questionable expenditures of campaign funds when she served in the House.

Then there was Democrat Governor John Kitzhaber, who resigned in February 2015 amid a growing influence-peddling scandal involving him and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, becoming the state’s first governor to resign in disgrace.

Kitzhaber ‘s resignation came in the face of a state criminal investigation and a string of demands from top state officials to step down.

There have also been questionable actions by other Democratic leaders.

At one extreme, there was Neil Goldschmidt, a former governor, former Secretary of Transportation under President Jimmy Carter and ex-mayor of Portland. Goldschmidt, while Portland’s mayor during the mid-1970s, had sex on many occasions with a 14-year-old girl. Goldschmidt tried to define his actions as “an affair”.

He started having sex with the girl when he was 35 and married. She was a babysitter for his young children and the daughter of a neighbor who worked in his office.

A key element tying all these scandals together is the long Democratic rule in Oregon. It has led too many in the party to act with impunity, just as Richard J. Daily and the Democratic political machine ran Chicago with bare-knuckle politics for 21 years as dozens of politicians fed on the city’s political corruption.

Oregon hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1982, when Gov. Vic Atiyeh won re-election. Republican s have also failed to achieve majorities in the Senate and House for ages.

Oregon has been ill-served by the concentration of political power in Democrat’s hands for so long that the party has an overpowering stench to it. As former U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) put it, “Unchecked power pushes parties to excess regardless of which party is in power.”

In Oregon, it’s been the Democrats for far too long.