Democratic gubernatorial candidate Patrick Starnes may have changed parties, but his positions on the issues remain consistent.
Starnes told The News-Review Tuesday that campaign finance reform remains a signature issue for him.
Starnes ran for governor on the Independent Party ticket in 2018 and made campaign finance reform the centerpiece of his campaign. He continued to fight for those reforms after that race was over.
In his 2022 campaign, he has pledged to accept no more than $1,000 per year from any individual donor and said he will not seek corporate or political action committee money.
He acknowledges that he’s going up against some powerhouse fundraisers like Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, who he will face in the primary.
To date, Starnes has raised $2,246 in campaign contributions this year to Kotek’s $23,800, and Kotek started the year with more than $91,000.
Nonetheless, Starnes believes he can win without the big donors.
“When you get $30,000 from Nike, they don’t go door to door for you. They don’t do any phoning for you, and so our grassroots effort will have a lot more boots on the ground and more ears to the phone,” he said.
Starnes pushed for passage of Measure 107 in 2020, which made limits on campaign contributions and spending constitutional.
And he was pleased and a little surprised when a whopping 78% of Oregon voters voted “yes.”
He’s disappointed, however, in what he said is the Legislature’s failure to enact any limits now that it’s explicitly constitutional for them to do so.
“There were a lot of lame excuses,” he said.
Starnes said it seems to him that the legislative leadership already had Kotek in mind as a candidate for governor for 2022, and it just wasn’t a priority for her to set finance limits before her run.
“That’s why we have to run, to bring it back to the table during the campaign as a primary issue, because the Oregonians spoke clearly to me. I heard them and some people didn’t hear them,” he said.
Starnes is a cabinetmaker who currently lives in Brownsville in Linn County, but he was a household name in Douglas County long before he ran for governor.
He is a former secretary of the Douglas County Democratic Party and a former Douglas Education Service District board member. He was narrowly defeated in a Roseburg City Council race in 2002, ran unsuccessfully for Douglas County commissioner in 2008, and ran unsuccessfully as an independent for state House District 7 in 2014.
During the District 7 race, Starnes pitched the idea of financing Oregon Health Plan coverage for all Oregonians through a junk food tax. It’s an idea he still supports.
Starnes said 40% of the money going into school districts is leaving the classroom due to Public Employee Retirement System debt and private health insurance costs.
Creating a self-supporting “OHP for all” system would free up money for teacher’s assistants in schools, raising graduation rates, he said.
He also said it would save private companies millions and allow for the creation of a second program, which he calls “PERS for all,” or the Oregon Universal Retirement System. This would be funded by a 6% payroll payment from employers and 6% from employees, just as PERS is funded but would apply to everyone.
Starnes supports Gov. Kate Brown’s mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying people have to remember that those masks protect children under 12 who can’t be vaccinated and cancer patients with weakened immune systems.
“It’s not about you and your freedom. It’s about them and their vulnerability,” Starnes said.
It’s an issue that’s become personal for Starnes, since his wife Mary Oleri recently recovered from throat cancer.
Starnes said he left the Democratic Party after President Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he said hurt American workers.
He said he rejoined the Democrats this year because he was encouraged by President Joe Biden’s decision to block completion of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Starnes describes himself as an environmentalist but said he understands timber issues and wants to work in a bipartisan way to address challenges like wildfires that all Oregonians care about.
“As a builder, I feel like I could build a good bipartisan table where we could come together,” he said.
“I always feel like we have a lot more in common than what divides us. We all love our families, we all love Oregon, we all love our freedoms, and we want our communities to be better and better,” he said.