The Endorsement, Election and Appointment of David Brock Smith
By Terry Noonkester
Representative David Brock Smith of Port Orford was appointed to his Oregon State Senate seat in Senate District 1 (SD1) on Wednesday, January the 11th at the Roseburg Courthouse. David Brock Smith’s ascent to the seat started on December 16th when Dallas Heard endorsed Smith as successor to his seat.
Members of the Oregon Republican Party (ORP) had known that Dallas Heard was not planning on running for another term as Senator since March 9, 2022 when Heard stepped down from his position as ORP chair, but there had been no announcement of his intent to resign from the Senate until December 15th. His resignation became effective on January 1st.
The Senator’s two weeks notice during the holiday season gave the Republican Parties of Coos, Curry and Douglas Counties very little time to recruit, vet and promote candidates needed for a competitive special election. In late December the Special Election was scheduled for January 7th, with only a 13 day notice before the election date. This short notice of the meeting date caused the Douglas County Republican Party concern that a mandatory 14 day notice was not met and could allow the Special Election to be nullified.
Within the special election process, the Precinct Committee-person’s (PCP’s) of the Republican Party, instead of the general population of voters, were entitled to vote. Each PCPs’ vote represents about 250 constituents within their precinct.
The Douglas County Republican Party Executive Board managed to activate 5 candidates for the Special Election; Tim Allen, Tom Dole, Doug Mendenhall, Richard Vander Velden, and Todd Vaughn. Curry County had two candidates, David Brock Smith and a Mr. Avery who immediately stepped-down to endorse David Brock Smith. Coos County had no candidates.
The Special Election met in Coquille on January 7th. The meeting opened with an announcement that there was a possible change of the rules to qualify candidates. The Secretary of State, Shemia Fagan, had concluded that because SD1 was redistricted since Senator Heard took office, the candidates would have another qualification criteria added, not only would the candidates have to live within the current SD1 boundaries, by Fagan’s opinion they now needed to live in both the new and old SD1 boundaries. That new restriction would eliminate two of the Douglas County Candidates, Todd Vaughn and Richard Vander Velden.
The voting PCP’s were told that the Legislative Counsel did not agree with the Secretary of State’s interpretation of the Oregon Revised Statutes’ criteria for conducting the election. The PCP’s were instructed at the beginning of the meeting, that even if the two candidates who had been affected by the district boundary change were elected, they might be eliminated when the controversy between the Legislative Council and Fagan was settled. Many of the PCP’s present at the election reacted with suspicion that something nefarious was happening behind the scenes.
Before the PCP’s could vote for their choice of nominees, they must vote on how many nominees they will present to the Commissioners of the three counties. According to ORS 171.051(3), the failure of presenting the County Commissioners with the required minimum of three nominees would result in a failure of the Special Election and the choice of the next State Senator would then default to Governor Tina Kotek. With that to consider, many PCP’s changed their intended vote of presenting 3 nominees and instead voted to present 5 nominees. Todd’s and Richard’s precarious position as being subject to a possible elimination by Secretary of State Fagan may have influenced some PCP’s not to vote for them. The candidates then gave their speeches, were asked several written questions solicited from the PCP’s and the ballots were handed out and eventually tallied.
In order of the highest number of votes, the winning nominees presented to the County Commissioners were: David Brock Smith at 16890.87, Tim Allen at 13385.82, Richard Vander Velden at 9975.45, Todd Vaughn at 8615.39 and Tomas Dole at 8508.38. When the Douglas County vote was separated out from the three counties, Tim Allen was in a decisive lead at 9715.87 over the next contender, David Brock Smith at 8030.29. Since the Douglas County Commissioners wielded 73.58 % of the vote by population, Tim Allen seemed to have the edge.
On January 11th, the County Commissioners met at the Douglas County Courthouse to appoint the nominee of their choice at the Senate District Meeting. The meeting was recorded on video on the Douglas County website.
At the Senate District Meeting the first order of business was to decide the controversy between the Legislative Council and Secretary of State, Fagan. Commissioner Tim Freeman and County Clerk Dan Loomis referred to the Oregon Constitution and ORS to support the Secretary of States’ position to eliminated Richard Vander Velden and Todd Vaughn. The Oregon Constitution Article IV 3(2)(c) and Sec. 6(6)(8) and the statutes ORS 171.068(2) and ORS 171.060(1) were sited to determine if residency requirements were met.
Freeman also sited an email sent by the Secretary of State two days earlier on January 9 at 4:39 pm. The way Tim Freeman read the email, it relied on ORS 171.106, but that statute is not listed within ORS Chapter 171 on the Oregon Legislature’s website. Commissioner Tim Freeman referred to the conflicting decisions between the Legislative Council and Secretary of State Fagan as “what seemed to be contrary, really was not.” The Legislative Council had added two caveats that allowed for the qualification of the candidates under certain conditions. Commissioner Chris Boice motioned to “strike the two disqualified candidates from the slate and only hear from the 3 candidates who meet all three qualifications.” The motion passed unanimously.
The 3 remaining nominees gave 5 minute speeches and answered questions from the nine Commissioners. The Commissioners then voted unanimously for David Brock Smith.
Near the end of the proceeding, Tim Freeman did apologize for the confusion caused by the Secretary of State Fagan at both the Special Election and the Senate District Meeting. Tim Freeman stated that if they had not had the five nominees, the two nominees who were eliminated would have qualified under one of the caveats provided by the Legislative Council.
At the end of this Senate District Meeting, Tim Freeman stated that in the last 8 years, the Douglas County Commissioners have appointed 4 legislative positions, and 1 of each of the following; a clerk, a surveyor, an assessor, a treasurer and a commissioner for a total of nine positions. By the time the Commissioners appoint the vacant House of Representatives seat left by David Brock Smith, it will be 5 legislative seats and a total of 10 elective positions.
Resignation from elected positions can be timed to allow the election of a replacement through the general election, or the timing can result in the need for a special election. If endorsements, special elections and appointments are used as a political strategy to bypass an election by the people, it results in the disenfranchisement of other candidates and the voters.