Drives to recall Brown see petitions pile up as Monday deadline looms

Oregon State Fair visitors this summer sign a petition to recall Gov. Kate Brown at the booth organized by Flush Down Kate Brown. (Claire Withycombe/Oregon Capital Bureau/file)

SALEM — They were busy this summer, showing up in places like the state fair, brew fests and libraries.

With card tables soon stowed away and signs taken down, petitions bearing signatures to recall Gov. Kate Brown are heading to Salem.

The recall effort has to turn in at least 280,050 valid voter signatures by Monday, Oct. 14, to put Brown’s fate before voters later this year. Those behind the drives say they are close to having enough signatures.

By most accounts, that’s a Sisyphean task.

Supporters in two separate recall campaigns had just 90 days to get the required signatures.

Despite tension between the two efforts, Bill Currier, chair of the state Republican Party, and Michael Cross, the leader of the second effort called “Flush Down Kate Brown,” urged petition circulators to pass around both petitions.

“Kate Brown has abused the office of the governor and failed the people of Oregon,” Currier said last month in a prepared statement. “On her watch all of the most damaging and controversial legislation has been declared an ‘emergency’ because the governor is clearly afraid of letting voters have the final say on her policies.”

Observers say getting a statewide recall measure on the ballot is a steep climb — one that no campaign has made in Oregon history.

“It would be very surprising,” said Jim Moore, associate professor and political outreach director for the Tom McCall Center for Civic Engagement at Pacific University.

Cross, of Flush Down Kate Brown, the second effort to unseat the governor, said they are close.

“We don’t have an exact count right now because they’re coming in, you know, every hour, but it’s going to be close,” Cross said Thursday. “So we’re hoping that we have enough to qualify.”

Cross said he was urging volunteers to each collect about 150 more signatures before the deadline.

Both operations rely solely on volunteers. They have hired no paid signature gatherers.

“We’re close,” said Carol Williams, petition coordinator for the Oregon Republican Party. “We’re really close.”

The party held signature drives at the Northwest Armory locations in Tigard and Milwaukie on Thursday, gathering about 1,600 signatures, Williams said.

And, during the middle of an interview at the joint Marion County and state Republican Party office in Salem on Friday afternoon, volunteers dropped off a stack of signature sheets collected from people outside the Capitol who were protesting Brown’s recent effort to temporarily ban flavored vaping products.

The office was bustling with people popping in and out to drop off signature sheets. Signature sheets for Currier’s petition were kept in a safe, and the petition sheets for the separate “Flush Down Kate Brown” measure were kept in a file cabinet. The signatures must be turned in separately.

Come Sunday, the party will batch up its signatures into sets of 200 and count up all of its signatures. If they have enough, they will submit them to the secretary of state’s office on Monday.

Neither Currier nor Kevin Hoar, spokesman for the Oregon Republican Party, returned multiple calls this week seeking comment. Their recall website states they need all signatures by Saturday, Oct. 12.

“It would be an incredible statement on the level of organization and support if they were able to pull this off with all volunteers,” said Ted Blaszak, CEO of Initiative and Referendum Campaign Management Services, which works on ballot measures across the country.

“If they had a bunch of money, and they had a paid organization going and gathering about half of the signatures, and they had this really strong volunteer force that could gather the other half, then they might, possibly pull it off,” Blaszak said. “But they’d need deep, deep pockets and a high level of organization. It’s a very high hurdle to jump, to leap over, this one.”

Not only is the high number of signatures in a compressed timeline difficult, but the minimum of 280,050 won’t be enough, because not all signatures are going to be valid, Blaszak said.

Typically, at most, 80 percent of the signatures will be valid, Blaszak said. Often petition signers assume they’re registered to vote when they’re not.

A volunteer working very hard could collect perhaps 50 to 75 signatures a day, meaning a recall effort of this scale would require about 2,000 volunteers committing at least 30 hours of work each, he said.

There have been only three campaigns in recent memory in Oregon that were able to get to the ballot with an all-volunteer force, Blaszak said. And they had about one year to get less than half of the signatures that the recall requires.

Brown’s campaign, meanwhile, is paying it no mind.

“We are not spending time thinking about the reckless recall,” Thomas Wheatley, a political advisor to Brown, wrote in an email to the Oregon Capital Bureau. “Governor Brown was elected by a majority of Oregon voters less than a year ago. Her resounding victory in 2018 was the fourth straight time Oregonians have elected her to statewide office.”

Before she became governor in 2015, she served as secretary of state.

“The governor is focused on moving Oregon forward,” Wheatley said. “Instead of joining her, extremists are pursuing a reckless recall and demanding a redo of the last election. This is a cynical attempt to nullify an election in which Oregon voters made a clear choice.”

Last year, Brown received 50.05 percent of the vote, according to Secretary of State figures.

The recall effort exemplifies today’s political atmosphere, and echoes attitudes about the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, Moore said.

“It just says that the people who don’t like Kate Brown still don’t like her, and that’s politics as normal these days,” Moore said. “If it’s not my person in there, they’re doing a horrible job and we ought to get rid of them in any way we can. If it is my person in there, why on earth are you challenging that legitimacy?”

Williams, of the state Republican Party, said that even if they don’t get enough signatures, they consider the effort a success.

“We aren’t going to really have a firm count until Sunday, but even if we don’t get it to the ballot, we still consider it a success,” Williams said. “Just because we allowed people to have a voice. People wanted to have a voice.”

Reporter Claire Withycombe: [email protected] or 971-304-4148.