Sen. James Manning, D-Eugene, speaks Wednesday, Sept. 13, at his campaign kickoff event in Eugene. (Julia Shumway/Oregon Capital Chronicle)
EUGENE– Pledging to restore faith in the office that oversees Oregon elections, state Sen. James Manning launched his campaign for secretary of state Wednesday on the steps of a house that serves as a landmark of Black history.
The Democratic Senate president pro tempore was flanked by supporters, including past and current Eugene city councilors and players on the Eugene Emeralds minor league baseball team, as he announced his candidacy. He joins Democratic state Treasurer Tobias Read in the race for a state office that’s grown in prominence after years of false claims about election fraud and former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s public downfall following revelations that she moonlighted for a marijuana chain involved in an audit conducted by the office.
“I’m running to restore the integrity, trust and confidence and transparency that has been tarnished,” he said. “I think this is a great opportunity. I don’t think that there’s anyone more qualified to do that than I am at this time.”
The secretary of state would lead Oregon if something happened to the governor, but Manning, 70, said he doesn’t view the office as a stepping stone to another position. He said it would be a continuation of a lifetime of public service. He worked as a state corrections officer and police officer before following the footsteps of his father, an Army veteran wounded in combat in World War II. Manning spent 24 years in the Army, retiring in 2007.
He served on volunteer commissions and volunteered as a mediator for the Lane County Circuit Court’s small claims department before being appointed to the state Senate in 2016.
“Through all the chapters of my life, all the ways that I’ve served in the public, my values are my guide,” Manning said. “My values never change, and I pledge to the people of Oregon, they will never change. Values are how we show who we are and inspire those around us to do their best. Values are essential when you grow up with very little else.”
Manning’s announcement, following a morning event in Portland, took place on his home base at the historic Mims house, one of the oldest homes in Eugene and a landmark of Black history in the area.
C.B. and Annie Mims were among the first African-American homeowners in Eugene in the 1940s. Their home and adjoining boarding house hosted Black lodgers and famous visitors including Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, serving as a safe haven in a period of segregation and widespread racial discrimination. It’s since become a museum and the headquarters for the Eugene-Springfield NAACP.
It was a fitting place to begin a historic campaign as the first Black person to run for secretary of state, Manning said.
“I would be remiss to stand here today, asking to make history as the first person of color ever elected to this office in Oregon and not note that our state history is a complex one,” he said. “A land of opportunity that has attracted people from many parts of the world for thousands of years, but also places that have not always welcomed those arrivals, particularly if you had black or brown skin. If there is anything in the moment that our history has taught us, it is that we must look with eyes wide open acknowledging the past and strive for a diverse, equitable future for all Oregonians.”
Mims’ son, Willie Calvin Mims, joined a few dozen Eugene residents who turned out to hear Manning speak. Mims told the Capital Chronicle he first met Manning within about a week of the senator’s move to Eugene in 2007.
“He’s already proven that he cares about people, and that’s the most important thing to us,” Mims said. “He definitely has my vote and my support.”
Manning said he supports efforts from U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley to expand Oregon’s vote-by-mail system nationwide, and pledged to look for opportunities to ensure every Oregonian who’s eligible to vote has the opportunity to do so. In the Senate, Manning supported a recent law to allow the Oregon Health Authority to automatically register eligible voters who enroll in Medicaid and for years has supported paid postage for voters to return mail ballots, which became law in 2019.
“We have people that live out in frontier communities, and not all of them have access to a ballot drop off box so they can drop it in the mail and get their ballots in on time,” he said. “The system works time and time again. Can we improve upon it? We’ll take a look at that, but I think we have a pretty safe system right now.”
Austin Folnagy, a Lane County Community College board member from rural east Lane County, said he appreciated Manning’s work advocating for people in rural Oregon.
“I appreciate your support for higher education, of course, and I appreciate you just wanting to bring back the integrity of this office of secretary of state,” he told Manning. “There is no other person I would want to see in that office.”
Manning’s four-year Senate term is up in 2027, and he plans to continue serving in the Legislature through the general election. If he’s elected, Lane County Commissioners will appoint a Democratic senator to finish the remaining two years of his term.
Read officially enters race
Tobias Read, the state treasurer, announced his campaign with a press release a few hours before Manning’s event. He’s been open about running since July, when he switched his campaign fundraising account to secretary of state.
“I’m running for secretary of state to restore trust and accountability in this important office,” Read said in a statement. “I’ll make sure Oregon continues to lead the nation in secure and accessible voting.”
The Beaverton Democrat is term-limited after two terms as treasurer. State Sen. Elizabeth Steiner, D-Portland, announced plans to run for treasurer on Wednesday.
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