Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, walking off the Senate floor. (Aubrey Wieber/Salem Reporter)
Longtime Beaverton state legislator Mark Hass has been informing local Democrats that he won't run for reelection to his Oregon Senate seat, he confirmed Thursday, Aug. 22.
Hass, who was appointed to the Senate in 2007 after six years in the House, is instead considering a run for secretary of state. The position is Oregon's second-highest constitutional office, first in the line of succession to the governor, and chief administrator of elections, audits and business licensing.
Hass served on a joint legislative committee this year that developed House Bill 3427, more commonly known as the Student Success Act. The Legislature passed that bill on a party-line vote, and Gov. Kate Brown signed it into law. After the vote, numerous legislative leaders, including Hass, called it perhaps the most important piece of legislation they had voted on in their political careers.
“The Student Success Act was a monumental achievement that we accomplished, and that's done,” said Hass, who pushed unsuccessfully for a similar tax on businesses to inject more money into Oregon's underperforming school system in 2017. “I think my work in the Legislature is complete.”
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Hass' retirement opens up a heavily Democratic-leaning Senate seat that covers much of Beaverton and Aloha.
Candidate filing doesn't open until next month, but Washington County Commissioner Dick Schouten, a Beaverton resident active in the Washington County Democratic Party, said Thursday he's planning to run. Schouten's district on the county commission has significant overlap with Hass' Senate District 14.
“I've really enjoyed my time on the board,” Schouten said. “I just think that after 20 years, it's time to look beyond the things I've been working on and look at things that (I) could impact in a more profound policy way.”
Commissioner Schouten's wife, Sheri Schouten, represents half of Senate District 14 in the House. She was first elected in 2016, before she and Dick Schouten were married.
Sheri Schouten plans to run for reelection to the House.
While it's not common, it isn't unheard of for husband-and-wife duos to serve simultaneously in the Oregon Legislature. Republicans John and Karen Minnis served concurrently in the early 2000s, John Minnis as a state senator and Karen Minnis as a state representative and later House speaker. So did Republicans Doug and Gail Whitsett from 2013 to 2017, with Doug Whitsett in the Senate and Gail Whitsett in the House.
Dick Schouten emphasized that he wants to be a “progressive” voice in the Senate from Beaverton and Aloha.
“My overarching thought is I'd like to see things like climate change and programs like that not to be held hostage by one or two really challenging, tough state legislators,” Schouten said.
While the Student Success Act was a signature accomplishment for Brown, Hass and other leading Democrats this year, they were unsuccessful in passing House Bill 2020, which would have set up a cap-and-trade program in an effort to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. The bill passed the House fairly easily, but it was blocked in the Senate by a trio of moderate Democratic senators who opposed the cap-and-trade plan, including Betsy Johnson of Scappoose, who represents much of northern Washington County in the Senate.
Hass supported HB 2020, he told the Oregon Capital Bureau — a news partnership between the Pamplin Media Group, EO Media Group and Salem Reporter — in June. But his focus throughout the legislative session was on the Student Success Act.
Hass was also a chief sponsor of a constitutional amendment that the Legislature approved this year, Senate Joint Resolution 18. Voters will be asked next year whether they want to amend the state constitution to explicitly allow limits on campaign contributions and campaign finance disclosure requirements.
The Oregon Supreme Court struck down campaign finance limits in the mid-1990s, saying they violated Oregon's constitutional right to free speech.
“Once we can get that change constitutionally, then we can go about setting limits so that they're not subject to court interpretation (on their constitutionality),” Hass said.
It will be up to the secretary of state in 2021 and beyond to lead that effort if voters approve the constitutional amendment, Hass said.
The secretary of state's role in auditing public agencies has drawn public scrutiny in recent years. Portland Public Schools sparred with the late Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, a Republican, earlier this year over a critical audit, which the state's largest school district argued was unfair and politically motivated.
Hass declined to comment on the audits done under Richardson and his appointed successor, Republican Bev Clarno, but he said he does believe auditing serves a vital function in government.
“I know that if I were there, I would do it in a way that is fair … and not punitive,” Hass said. “It shouldn't be anybody's political agenda.”
Hass said he believes audits should be done “constructively,” with the goal of helping agencies adopt better practices.
If he's elected, Hass said one of the first audits he wants to order is of his own signature legislation: the Student Success Act. He wants to ensure that the money raised by the gross-receipts tax, which takes effect next year, is being spent appropriately, he said.
Hass isn't the only Democrat considering a run for secretary of state. Multiple reports in recent weeks have suggested Rep. Jennifer Williamson of Southwest Portland and Rep. Dan Rayfield of Corvallis are interested in the position. Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a Democrat from Central Oregon who ran unsuccessfully last year for Congress, has already declared her intention to run.
On the other side of the political aisle, while Clarno isn't running for a full term, Deputy Secretary of State Rich Vial of Scholls is reportedly considering it. A moderate Republican, Vial served for one term in the House, representing parts of Hillsboro, Tigard, King City, Sherwood and Wilsonville, before losing reelection last year to Wilsonville Democrat Courtney Neron.
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