June 13th, 2024

Centrist challenger ousts progressive prosecutor in DA race in Portland, Oregon

By Claire Rush, The Associated Press on May 22, 2024.

Nathan Vasquez responds to Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, not seen, during a candidate debate hosted by The Oregonian and KGW news at KGW's studio the evening of Thursday., May 2, 2024 in Portland, Ore. Schmidt is seeking a second term, while Vasquez currently works for Schmidt as a senior deputy district attorney. (Dave Killen /The Oregonian via AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Centrist district attorney candidate Nathan Vasquez has ousted the incumbent progressive prosecutor in Oregon’s Multnomah County, home to Portland, after running a campaign in which he vowed to be tough on crime.

One of District Attorney Mike Schmidt’s deputies, Vasquez was endorsed by several police groups. He won Tuesday’s nonpartisan primary election after receiving more than 50% of the vote. While there was a write in option, Vasquez and Schmidt were the only two candidates in the race.

Vasquez’s victory comes at a time when progressive DAs and candidates in liberal bastions ranging from the San Francisco Bay Area to Seattle have faced setbacks as frustrations over public safety and homelessness have risen.

Schmidt was elected in 2020 as social justice protests gripped Portland and the nation. He campaigned on reforming the criminal justice system, and while in office, he launched initiatives to review wrongful convictions and prison sentences and focus prosecutions on violent crime rather than low-level offenses.

During the campaign, Vasquez denounced some of Schmidt’s policies, such as his decision not to prosecute protesters arrested during the 2020 demonstrations for low-level, non-violent offenses, and his past support of Measure 110, a ballot measure approved by voters in 2020 that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of drugs.

Amid one of the nation’s largest spikes in overdose fatalities, state lawmakers this year ended up rolling back the first-in-the-nation law and restoring criminal penalties for so-called “personal use” possession. Schmidt supported reinstating the penalties.

Vasquez has been a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office for over 20 years.

Before taking office, Schmidt led the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, a state agency tasked with improving the legitimacy and effectiveness of the criminal justice system. Prior to that, he had served as a deputy district attorney for Multnomah County.

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