Eugene voters on track to overwhelmingly reject Holvey recall

More than 90% of votes counted Tuesday rejected the attempt to remove the high-ranking Democrat

By: - October 3, 2023 8:16 pm

Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, listens during a committee meeting in December 2022. (Connor Radnovich/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Eugene voters appear on track to overwhelmingly reject a recall against one of the state’s top Democratic legislative leaders. 

More than 90% of the 11,000 votes counted by 8 p.m. Tuesday in the recall election targeting Rep. Paul Holvey rejected the attempt to remove the longtime lawmaker and second-ranking Democrat in the House. It’s a decisive end to a recall campaign that pitted unions against each other and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in what would normally be a quiet off-year. 

"Today we sent a strong message that one deep-pocketed group who doesn’t get their way can’t abuse the recall system to deceive a community and intimidate elected officials," Holvey said in a statement. "I want to thank all my union partners, organizations, legislative colleagues, and community leaders who supported me throughout this election."

United Food and Commercial Workers 555, the union that represents Oregon grocery workers, collected signatures to force the first recall election against an Oregon lawmaker in nearly four decades. 

A union spokesman said earlier Tuesday that the union would send a statement shortly after election results posted but had not done so by 9 p.m.

Holvey, a former carpenters union representative known in Salem for labor-friendly policies, has served in the state House for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he’s been the speaker pro tempore – in charge of presiding over the House when Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, cannot. 

Holvey has coasted to victory in every election since his 2004 appointment, easily defeating Republican and occasional Libertarian challengers in his Democratic district. But the recall posed a new challenge: Instead of running against another candidate, he was running to defend his own record. 

The recall puzzled observers in Eugene and elsewhere. Other powerful labor unions, including Service Employees International Union, SEIU,  and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFSCME, lined up to support Holvey, as they have in prior elections.

But UFCW, the state’s largest private sector union, has had increasingly strained relationships with Democratic leaders. It declined to endorse Holvey and Rayfield in 2022 and broke with every other union in the state by endorsing New York Times columnist Nick Kristof for governor over Tina Kotek. 

The union’s issues started when it unsuccessfully lobbied the Democratic-controlled Legislature to prioritize grocery workers for COVID vaccines and use federal relief money for bonuses for those frontline workers. But the final straw with Holvey, chair of the House Business and Labor Committee, came when he tabled a bill supported by the union that would clear the way for cannabis workers to unionize. 

Citing advice from legislative attorneys that the bill would conflict with federal law, Holvey declined to give the measure a vote in his committee before a statutory deadline. Instead, he sent it to the Rules Committee, led by House Majority Leader and fellow Eugene Rep. Julie Fahey. The Rules Committee isn’t bound by the same deadlines, so that move kept the measure alive for a few more weeks. It ultimately failed to move forward. 

UFCW spent close to $184,000 to get the recall on the ballot and another $154,000 to campaign against Holvey this fall, according to state campaign finance records. 

"I hope that members of UFCW 555 hold UFCW’s leadership and individuals behind this recall accountable for wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars from their dues, without making a single worker’s life better," Holvey said. "I know that I, the Oregon Democrat caucuses, and every other union who opposed this recall will continue to share union values and fight for all workers including the hardworking rank and file members of UFCW 555."

It’s also been an expensive campaign for Holvey, who raised more than $300,000 this year and spent close to $260,000 – more than he spent in his races in 2020 and 2022 combined. Vote No on the Reckless Recall, a political action committee controlled by Rayfield and bankrolled by the Oregon Education Association, raised and spent about $28,000 to help Holvey. 

About a quarter of the district’s more than 43,000 voters had returned ballots by Monday, according to the county elections office. The initial results included most of the votes cast before 8 p.m. Monday, and subsequent rounds of results will include remaining ballots. 

Ballots postmarked on or before Oct. 3 that arrive at the county elections office within a week are counted. Some ballots also take longer to process, including ones with a mismatch between the signature on the ballot envelope and signature on file. Voters should keep an eye out for notices from the Lane County Clerk’s Office. 


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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.