Around Oregon

Four candidates running in attorney general primaries to succeed Rosenblum 

Four candidates are running for Oregon attorney general and hope to get their party’s nod in the primary to compete in November to succeed Ellen Rosenblum.

Rosenblum, Oregon’s Democratic attorney general, will retire after finishing her current and third four-year term. She was first elected in 2012, becoming the state’s first woman in the role. This the first open race for attorney general in Oregon for more than a decade. 

The two Republicans and two Democrats competing in the primary, which is only open to registered party members, bring a mix of experiences, from civil rights advocacy to law and politics. The two winners will square off in November. 

The attorney general leads the Oregon Department of Justice, which has nearly 1,500 workers statewide and an annual budget of about $406 million. The attorney general’s work includes defending state agencies when they are sued, as well as consumer advocacy on behalf of residents. This can include taking legal action against unscrupulous businesses, helping collect child support and raising public awareness about scams. 

The cases vary – and aren’t limited to criminal law enforcement. Rosenblum has sued Fox Corporation over false election claims, and she has sued DuPont, 3M and other companies over firefighting foam that contains PFAS, or forever chemicals, which are tied to a range of health problems. She’s also joined joint lawsuits with other attorneys general and filed joint briefs, including in a case over an abortion pill that was recently heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Department of Justice also advocates for vulnerable Oregonians, work that includes running the state’s child support program, crime victim compensation and the bias response hotline. 

Here’s a look at what they each would bring to the office. 

Will Lathrop, Republican

Will Lathrop is an attorney whose career has taken him from Oregon to Africa – and back. 

He worked as a deputy district attorney in Marion and Yamhill counties for nearly a decade until 2014. 

More recently, he worked for eight years for International Justice Mission, a nonprofit human rights agency. He traveled to Uganda and Ghana where he worked on projects addressing human trafficking and other problems, like land rights for widows and orphans. In Uganda, for example, civil war had pushed widows off their land. Lathrop’s organization led international efforts to restore their land to them and prosecute land raiders.

Lathrop said his background, which involves prosecutor work as well as working across different agencies and jurisdictions, makes him uniquely suited to be an attorney general. He said he would prioritize the office’s role in law enforcement work. 

“All across Oregon, people are really concerned about public safety,” Lathrop said in an interview. “I’ve spent my whole adult career working to protect people, vulnerable groups, particularly children, from violence and exploitation.” 

For law enforcement, that would mean working statewide to help local and regional law enforcement agencies strategize and coordinate. Lathrop said the state needs a unified response to the drug cartels that profit off fentanyl that’s made and processed in China and Mexico and enters Oregon. 

“Somebody has to sit in the middle of that and develop a collective strategy to share resources and share information to become organized and make sure that we’re meeting the cartels where they’re at,” Lathrop said. “And we’re not doing that.”

Michael Cross, Republican

Michael Cross, a self-employed software developer, has flirted with politics in the past. In 2019, he ran a campaign to try to recall then-Gov. Kate Brown, which failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Cross, in a wide-ranging interview, told the Capital Chronicle he’s a non-conventional candidate. He’s never held elected office and he’s not an attorney. 

“There’s a reason our founding fathers didn’t require that you be a lawyer for this position,” Cross said.

He said he offers unconventional solutions to Oregon’s biggest problems like homelessness and drug addiction. For example, he said the state could help those without shelter and suffering from addiction by creating a small town in eastern Oregon for people without shelter where they could work for private companies. 

He said the idea is partially inspired by the Civilian Conservation Corps program that the U.S. government ran in the 1930s during the Great Depression. That program put people to work, often on infrastructure projects, throughout the nation. 

“In my estimation, we need to do a 180-degree turn,” he said. “We need to turn things around.”

Big businesses would get tax credits to set up manufacturing hubs to train people and offer them jobs while homeless people would develop skills and get a chance to learn a trade. 

He said the state would need to allow for flexibility like allowing people to live in tents. Long-time tent dwellers may not want to live indoors, he said. 

He also said he supports efficient government and would look at how many private law firms work for the Department of Justice and cut back on those contracts to save taxpayer money. 

Dan Rayfield, Democrat

Dan Rayfield, an attorney and state representative, served for two years as the House speaker before stepping down in March when the legislative session ended to run for attorney general.

Rayfield was first elected to his House seat representing his Corvallis-area district in 2014, and he is serving out the rest of his term which ends in early January. 

In an interview, Rayfield said his experience in elected office and as a private attorney for nearly 18 years makes him the best qualified candidate. His litigation experience as a trial attorney in civil litigation cases, he said, is an appropriate background to oversee work like the department’s civil enforcement division, which takes action against medical insurers that wrongly deny claims and others. 

Rayfield said he would look for ways for the attorney general and Department of Justice to address the state’s housing, homelessness and the drug addiction crises. 

“The reason I really wanted to run is because I believe with the right leadership, we can actually begin to make significant progress and be an indispensable partner to help fix those issues,” he said.

Rayfield said his tenure in the Legislature is an asset, saying he tried to bring a spirit of collaboration to that work. 

In his last session as speaker, the lower chamber passed legislation this year intended to combat the state’s fentanyl addiction and overdose crisis. The legislation, House Bill 4002, will allow counties to set up programs to offer people treatment and help them avoid jail. 

The bulk of that work will be at the local level, as prosecutors, treatment providers and others work together to build local programs and tailor them to their needs. Rayfield said the attorney general’s perch is at the nexus of different public safety agencies and well-positioned to lead conversations and work centered on improving the system and advocate for funding. 

Rayfield said the attorney general – and Department of Justice – can help alleviate the state’s crises by working behind the scenes. For example, he said, there are concerns that the state is not getting money out the door quickly to pay for projects to address crises like housing or behavioral health. It’s a complex process to fund projects and it requires the Department of Justice to review contracts. 

Rayfield said he would  find out why it’s taking so long.

“I can’t sit here right now and tell you what the problem is,” he said. “What I do want to do is get in there, put people together and reassess why is this taking as long as it is.”

Shaina Maxey Pomerantz, Democrat

Shaina Maxey Pomerantz has a background in civil rights advocacy and has served in appointed and staff government positions. 

She is currently the executive director of Race Talks, a Portland-based nonprofit that her mother Donna Maxey founded. The group’s goal is to connect people across different cultures. Pomerantz’s interest in race stems, in part, from her grandparents who fled the racist Jim Crow laws in east Texas to move to Oregon in the 1940s at a time when Black people were being recruited to work in the Portland shipyards. 

Prior to her present job, Pomerantz worked for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries as a civil rights investigator. She was hired by Carol Johnson, the agency’s first Black woman to serve as the civil rights administrator. 

Pomerantz left the agency after eight months in 2020 and filed a lawsuit alleging she faced racial hostility. The state agency settled that lawsuit in 2023, paying her a $425,000 settlement and issuing an apology letter. 

Johnson filed a separate lawsuit and received a $1.7 million award. A Multnomah County circuit court judge also ordered the state to pay Johnson $1.1 million in attorney fees and court costs.

Pomerantz said the experience taught her the value of mediation avoid legal battles that cost taxpayer money. As attorney general, she said she would look for ways to head off disputes before they rise to the level of litigation. 

“I can’t help but wonder: Could there have been an opportunity to sit down and mediate this conflict before $3 million in taxpayer money walked out the door?” she said. 

She said she would want the Department of Justice to be an arbitrator. 

“Unfortunately, my experience of engaging with the DOJ was completely adversarial,” she said. “They were defending the state. And so I look at this and say, ‘Well, where’s the opportunity where the agency’s office can act more as an arbitrator? How can we step in and assist these agencies, like (the Bureau of Labor and Industries) and say, ‘Hey, you have a problem here’ before it rises to the level of litigation, a costly lawsuit and a costly settlement?”

Pomerantz said she’s a strong advocate of collaboration among different groups, from community organizations to law enforcement to reach solutions. 

She also says her diverse living experiences would be an asset in the job: She has taught high school in the Bronx, lived in rural Alabama and worked with farmers to help them set up wills and trusts. She also has worked as a legislative staffer in Texas and Oregon. 

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact [email protected]