Patrick Starnes’s optimism about his Democratic primary run for governor has been bolstered by an endorsement from the Oregon Progressive Party.
Starnes, who ran on the Independent Party ticket in 2018, formerly lived in Douglas County, but now calls Brownsville home. He met with a News-Review reporter Friday to talk about how the campaign is going and what he’d like to accomplish if he were elected to the position.
Starnes said he believes he’s among the top three candidates in the race, along with Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read and former House Speaker Tina Kotek. That’s despite his limited campaign fundraising and his difficulty persuading a Portland TV station to include him in its debates.
Starnes believes debates should be held at community colleges around the state.
Dedicated to an ideal of getting big money out of politics, Starnes has stayed true to that in his campaign. He’s refused donations from corporate and union PACs, along with donations of more than $1,000 from any individual.
It’s an approach that he said has left him free to pursue the policies the people want rather than the policies big money donors want.
In the absence of a big financial war chest, Starnes gets his message out online and by visiting counties around the state. He’s also done newspaper and radio interviews around the state.
“A lot of people, especially my young Gen Z friends, they’re like who watches TV?” he said, and corporate donations “don’t go door to door for you.”
Starnes said his campaign finance reform message is resonating with voters. His support for extending Oregon Health Plan to all Oregonians is getting a favorable response, too, he said.
The state would still receive federal money if it included them in OHP, he said. There are almost 300,000 working Oregonians who currently are not insured yet earn too much money to qualify for OHP, he said.
“A group that I was surprised got excited about it were seniors that are on Medicare, because Medicare doesn’t cover as good as OHP,” he said. “It doesn’t cover vision and dental.”
Starnes said as a rural Democrat and a woodworker, he has a better understanding of rural Oregon than the metro candidates like Kotek and Reed, both of Portland. That includes an understanding of natural resource and wildfire issues, Starnes said.
He said he’s also the only gubernatorial candidate who has a plan to deal with the homeless issue.
He said he would pay for an Oregon shelter fund through charging a vacancy fee to property owners who leave abandoned houses.
Many have been bought up by out-of-state banks who use them as a tax deduction and leave them to ruin neighborhoods.
“It creates scarcity. The big thing I’ve been telling folks across the state is that with our growth here that’s part of our housing crisis,” Starnes said.
Every year another 40,000 people are moving to the state, more than the population of Roseburg.
In tourist areas, the growth of air bed and breakfasts is contributing to a shortage of affordable housing for workers, he said.
The shelter fund could help alleviate that problem too, he said.
Starnes blamed the Legislature’s failure to take action on campaign finance reform — overwhelmingly approved by Oregon voters in 2020 — to Kotek’s plans to run for governor.
Starnes was a key figure pushing for the passage of Ballot Measure 107. It received 78% of the vote, and authorized the Legislature to enact laws limiting campaign contributions.
“With real leadership, you could put a table of people together, a bipartisan table,” he said.
He’s hopeful that Oregon is at the end of this pandemic, but said he doesn’t think this will be the last one.
“We’re so globalized now, especially on the Pacific Rim,” he said.
He said he’s the only candidate who’s talking about creating an emergency crisis fund for pandemics, wildfires and earthquakes.
Sadly, wildfires are the “new normal,” he said.
“My message around the state has been that all these issues that we’re talking about are a real opportunity for us to reunite Oregonians. I call it the one Oregon, because wildfires affect big cities and rural communities, so it’s not a rural-urban difference, it’s not Republican vs. Democrat. Everyone’s affected by wildfire, healthcare and the housing crisis,” he said.
That’s a message he said people around the state are ready to hear.
“People are tired, they’re not only tired of the pandemic. They’re tired of all the divisiveness,” he said.