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Oregon Voters Select Val Hoyle As New Labor Commissioner

Oregon House of Representatives
File photo. Former Oregon state Rep. Val Hoyle won the race for Oregon labor commissioner.

Former lawmaker Val Hoyle appeared poised to secure victory in the heated race for Oregon labor commissioner on Tuesday, becoming just the second woman to oversee the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) in 115 years.

As of early returns Tuesday night, Hoyle had won 51 percent of votes, versus 35 percent won by her main opponent, longtime Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden. A third candidate, Union County Commissioner Jack Howard, had almost 13 percent of the vote.

“I’m really proud of the race we ran,” Hoyle said. “We talked about the issues. We talked about why I was the most qualified, my willingness to stand up for working people, for families … . That message resonated.”

Since labor commissioner is a nonpartisan job, 50 percent plus one vote was enough to win the office outright in the primary election. If no candidate had done so, the contest would have gone to a November runoff between the top two candidates.

The labor commissioner oversees a bureau that investigates civil rights complaints, enforces Oregon wage and hour laws, and helps train apprentice laborers.

Tuesday’s result marked the culmination of what became one of May’s most heated races. Despite BOLI’s relatively low profile in the minds of many Oregonians, the contest took on aspects of a prime-time fight.

Hoyle, a longtime labor ally, raised more than $750,000 to conduct her campaign — much of it from labor unions. She filed to run in September and didn’t face meaningful challenger until late February. That’s when Ogden abandoned a campaign for Washington County chair and decided to run for labor commissioner instead.

The candidates have exhibited stark differences in the months since. Despite recent failed bids for secretary of state and a state Senate seat, Hoyle said she’d always thought the labor commissioner job was a perfect fit. She jumped into the race after current Commissioner Brad Avakian announced he wouldn’t seek re-election.

Ogden, on the other hand, made no bones about the fact he didn’t know much about the job when he decided to run. He’d been urged to jump in the race by Republicans such as Oregon state. Rep Julie Parrish—a political consultant who subsequently ran the campaign—and former state Sen. Bruce Starr. Despite the late start, Ogden saw serious buy-in from timber companies and conservative political donors, raising more than $360,000.

On the campaign trail, the candidates staked out opposing positions. Hoyle presented herself as a “labor Democrat” whose sympathies lie with workers. Ogden suggested BOLI had been too punitive on businesses and that he’d offer some relief. Both insisted they’d carry out the duties of the office in an even-handed manner.

The tone of the campaign grew increasingly ugly as the election date neared. Ogden took issue with a Facebook page posted by the AFL-CIO, a union that supported Hoyle. The page, “Lou Ogden: Unacceptable,” recalled a 2008 incident in which one of Ogden’s tenants was investigated for possessing child porn. It suggested Ogden didn’t kick the man out with sufficient haste.

Both campaigns went on to launch negative ads, with Hoyle saying Ogden campaigned with “extreme Republicans” who support President Donald Trump.

Ogden’s campaign then put out an objectively false online ad suggesting Hoyle was a darling of the National Rifle Association, which has given her bad marks for years. The Eugene Register-Guard newspaper wound up pulling that ad from its website after an attorney for Hoyle threatened legal action.

“What I can tell you is: Voters are smart and they know when you’re telling them the truth,” Hoyle said Tuesday evening. “What we did is we focused on the issues, the facts, and my qualifications. That’s a winning message.”

Dirk VanderHart covers Oregon politics and government for OPB. Before barging onto the radio in 2018, he spent more than a decade as a newspaper reporter—much of that time reporting on city government for the Portland Mercury. He’s also had stints covering chicanery in Southwest Missouri, the wilds of Ohio in Ohio, and all things Texas on Capitol Hill.